Don’t sue your way out of a bad review on Yelp
Update: this lawsuit settled out of court.
There’s an interesting lawsuit going on right now in San Fransico. Here are the details from Good Morning Silicon Valley:
“Barring a settlement in mediation talks that begin Friday, Christopher Norberg of San Francisco is headed for a March trial in a suit over negative comments about chiropractor Steven Biegel posted on the popular consumer review site Yelp. In his November 2007 post, Norberg described a billing dispute and closed by saying, “I don’t think good business means charging people whatever you feel like hoping they’ll pay without a fuss. Especially considering that I found a much better, honest chiropractor.” After Biegel sent a request and then a warning, Norberg removed the post, but Biegel filed suit, claiming harm to his reputation and business and seeking punitive damages.”
This is apparently libel. And according to Carl V. Natale, from MaineBusiness.com, we should really watch our step. This is what he says about the quote that Norberg said about the Chiropractor:
Opinion is protected by libel law. But I see the above quote to be more statement of fact and less opinion. In other words, I can write that your business has lousy coffee. That’s a protected opinion. But I can’t suggest you improve it by not making it with dirty dishwater. I should write that your coffee tastes like dirty dishwater. Again, protected opinion.
My own personal is opinion is that people will share their comments, regardless of libel. The Chiropractor in question clearly pissed off a customer. That customer used an outlet to talk about how pissed off he was. Perhaps it was a vendetta, but I think suing is the exact wrong thing to do. Better yet, why not go onto Yelp and respond. Say something like this:
“I respect the opinion of Mr. Norberg, a client of mine from date to date. But I think his characterization of me is wrong. I’m honest and hard working, and I’ll work hard to solve any issue you have. Also, my rates are public and agreed upon before treatment. I’m not sure what specific disagreement Mr. Norberg had with me, but I wish he would have talked to me directly instead of using Yelp. Call me anytime, night or day and I’ll happily explain how my treatment works, and I’ll let you know the rates.”
Which do you think would get customers: A response on Yelp, or news that you’re suing a customer?
To recap, businesses have two options when someone says something bad about it:
1. Address it. See if the problem is wrong. In the above instance, perhaps the chiropractor doesn’t publish rates. And perhaps this oversight leads to angry customers. Solution: publish rates. Be transparent about them.
2. Sue. The problem with suing is that if there is a problem (see #1), suing the person to stop saying it amplifies the problem. I just wrote a suggestion about how I think Dr. Biegal should publish his rates. Or show Mr. Norberg where those rates are. But regardless, I’m amplifying the disagreement between a business and a customer.
People generally don’t like to do business with a business that sues its customers. And finally, lets suppose for a second that Dr. Biegal wins. And people have to be more clear about their criticism moving forward. Will this really stopped anonymous bloggers? Yelp lets me join without giving my real name. Can’t I simply join Yelp and relate a bad experience with a business using the name Mickey Mantle?
Do you really see suing as stopping people from saying bad things?
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