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Can You Be Sued For Your Negative Online Reviews?

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You just came back from the worst restaurant ever.  You jump on Yelp and are determined to write a review to save other people’s stomachs from the “food” you were just served.  But wait, don’t hit the post button yet!

Can Posting A Review Online Get You in Trouble? 

Meaning, can you be sued for writing a bad review? Your first reaction might be “The First Amendment – free speech – protects me.”  Sorry, no, the First Amendment protections here. The First Amendment protects us only from government restrictions on what we can say – but not from lawsuits by private individuals and companies. 

So yes, your Yelp review can get you in trouble and that trouble comes in the form of a defamation lawsuit. Defamation is speech that is both, (1) false, and (2) causes damage to the person or business it’s said about. Usually the emphasis is on the falsity of the statement. As more online reviews become more important to businesses and people, we’re going to see more litigation surrounding this issue. So let’s stay out of trouble.

When posting online, remember three things:

  • First, tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate. You saw a cockroach crawling across the floor of the restaurant. There is no need to add rats and mice as well.
  • Second, stay within your realm of knowledge and make everything an opinion. Instead of saying the restaurant didn’t have the oven hot enough, say, “In my opinion, the meat was horribly undercooked.” Opinions cannot be challenged factually.
  • And third, stay away from criminally charged language. Don’t say the restaurant committed fraud or they “robbed” you. Courts frown on criminally charged language in defamation suits.

So this doesn’t mean you have to give vanilla boring reviews. In my review of case authority, courts have held the following reviews as non defamatory: (1) calling someone a “chicken butt,” (2) saying a certain doctor shouldn’t even be operating on worms and frogs, (3) saying a patron had diarrhea from a restaurant which helped with their diet.

So remember to stay truthful, state your opinion only and stay away from legal jargon. Now go post that online review.

Jeremy Hogan
Jeremy Hogan
Attorney Jeremy Hogan is a partner at Hogan & Hogan.