A homeowner in Fairfax County, Virginia, disappointed in the contractor she’d hired, did what any normal person would do: she went on both Yelp and Angie’s List and gave the guy scathing, one-star reviews. In her screed, Jane Perez accused Christopher Dietz of damaging her townhouse, inflating charges and stealing jewelry.
Business owners from restaurateurs to dentists to hairdressers have long complained that they have no recourse against self-appointed online reviewers; like diamonds, a bad review is forever. But Dietz fought back- in the courts. He’s suing Perez for defamation and asking $750,000 in damages. While he’s deciding the case, the Virginia judge has ordered Perez to remove certain online accusations and barred her from reposting them. Free speech advocates warn of a slippery slope towards the stifling of constitutional rights. But merchants increasingly claim to be the victim of false and malicious reviewers, some of whom represent on the sites with fake identities.
Should online reviews require verification, and if so, how would it be done? Does the law protect businesses that have been maligned online? If you rely on review sites when choosing a service, how can you be sure the reviewer is being truthful? Have you ever written a bad online review?
Aaron Morris, partner, Morris & Stone law firm and President of the California Defamation Lawyers Association
Mark Goldowitz, founder and director, California Anti-SLAPP Project