Negative review leads to threats of lawsuit

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by Jesse Jones / KING 5

Bio | Email | Follow: @getjesse

KING5.com

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 12:18 AM

Shayli Sutton never thought downloading an app on her phone could land her in court.  It all started with an online review she wrote about a security camera app.  When it failed to work she posted her thoughts online.

“They came after me, threatening me if I didn't take off my review or change my review that they would seek legal action against me,” explained Sutton.

That's right - say something bad and you could end up in court.  Cases like Sutton’s are happening all over the country.  A company is demanding $3,500 from a Utah couple.  A Chicago woman faces a $10,000 penalty.  In Virginia, a $750,000 suit is in the courts.  Don't think you can keep your posts secret.  In one ongoing case a judge has ruled that Yelp must reveal the names of several anonymous reviewers.

“What is this world coming to where you can't state your opinion anymore; that you're going to be sued just for stating your opinion,” said Sutton.

Sean O'Connor is a law professor at the University of Washington.  He says the internet is like open season for reviewers and businesses are scrambling.

“The challenge is that a lot of these businesses are living and dying by their reviews,” said O’Connor.  “Developers are feeling like they're losing business if they have negative reviews and if they feel like some of them are false."

If a company thinks a review is false the burden of proof is on it but you could end up in court.

“It's easier for people to threaten you with overblown legal claims and then your problem is deciding, do I want to take time and money and be afraid that maybe in fact I’ll have to pay a lot for something that I didn't know my rights,” said O’Connor.

As for Sutton’s case, the company made some changes and she deleted her review and the app.  She said it wasn't worth the fight.  Bottom line – Be careful and if you write a negative review stick to facts you can prove.

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