Whether intentional or not, almost every business has an online presence. With websites like Yelp, Facebook and Google Reviews, users can create online profiles for businesses they have been to or heard about, and share their experiences and opinions. In some cases, these reviews serve as free advertisements that most businesses will welcome. In others, they create a platform for words that walk the line between criticism and defamation.
While traditionally consumers have been protected by a certain level of anonymity online, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a decision yesterday that may change that going forward. You should contact a business litigation attorney if you've discovered defamatory statements online you feel may be negatively impacting your business.
In the aforementioned case, a California man who attended a friend's wedding in Oregon returned home and wrote a one star review of the wedding venue. The review included language such as "The worst experience of my life," and referred to the bridal suite as a "tool shed." After the review went up, business at the venue declined dramatically.
Though businesses have brought similar cases in the past, the court commonly determines the speech is protected and the case should be dismissed. In the current case, however, the court decided since the review had language that was opinion, and language that was likely a misstatement of fact, it should be up to a jury to determine whether the review constituted defamation.
In competitive markets, negative online reviews can be a very real concern for businesses. If you think your business is being unfairly criticized online, you should contact a business litigation attorney to help determine your rights.