Have you ever used the website Ripoff Report to write a negative customer review about a company who you felt “ripped you off”? Have you ever been threatened with a lawsuit because of your comments? Let’s look into a real-life Ripoff Report case and review the basic requirements for winning an online trade libel case.
Numerous defamation lawsuits stem from disgruntled customers posting online reviews of products or businesses that they feel they’ve had a negative experience with. Many cases that we’ve worked on with clients have come from the popular consumer review website, Ripoff Report.
Below, we will review a defamation case between a Florida woman and a hot tub company and discuss the differences between negative online reviews and defamatory ones.
RIPOFF REPORT CASE STUDY:
A woman (we’ll call her “Jenny”) bought a hot tub that she claimed to have a problem.
“The spa leaked the first time I used it,” she explained, “so [the hot tub company] had it repaired. But then it leaked again. My carpet stank from the water and I wanted a refund.”
When Jenny brought this issue up to the company she had purchased the spa from, they reminded her of the “no return policy”. This limited her options to paying a 10% restocking fee or $800 for a new tub, which escalated the situation even more.
In the end, Jenny’s credit card company reversed the charges, but she posted her version of the experience with the company on Ripoff Report, causing the spa’s reputation to take a hit.
In pursuit of restoring their reputation, the hot tub company decided to sue Jenny for defamation.
Can they win?
WINNING A CUSTOMER REVIEW DEFAMATION LAWSUIT: REQUIRED PROOF
Generally, it’s not easy to win a customer review defamation lawsuit. This is because free speech is a national right according to the First Amendment. Therefore, at a minimum, in the majority of states, plaintiffs must be able to establish the following by a “preponderance of the evidence” (i.e., more likely than not):
- Falsity: Small mistakes or exaggerations are not enough. To win a defamation lawsuit, the problematic statement must be a false statement of fact — and the plaintiff must prove that it is.
- Harm: In most cases, businesses that file defamation lawsuits must provide evidence that the false statement of fact had a direct, financial impact on their business.
- Negligence: Proving harm and falsity still won’t cut it. Plaintiffs also need to convince a judge or jury that the defendant either didn’t engage in enough fact checking before publishing or knew the statement was false but posted it anyway.
It’s important to consider all the facts and circumstances before filing a lawsuit as a result of an online review. And more times than not, these facts and circumstances include a lot more than the basic requirements discussed above. For example, does labeling something an opinion make it so? Can you still win a defamation lawsuit? Contact the experienced defamation lawyers at RM Warner to get all of the answers and insight you need.
To learn more about removing defamatory content from RipOff Report, click here.