Last Update: 1/10/23
Defamation Lawsuits Based On Bad or Negative Online Reviews – Claims By Individuals and Businesses
Libel lawsuits based on bad online reviews are being filed more and more by individuals as well as businesses. Consider these examples:
- Two women who wrote negative reviews about a local Oregon church on their blog were sued for defamation several years ago. The plaintiff, the Pastor of the Grace Bible Church, sought $500,000 in damages for defamation.
- A tenured Kansas State University professor wrote a blog post with negative reviews of a publishing company and two years later, the professor and his employer were sued by that publishing company for defamation; the plaintiff asked for $4,000,000+ in libel damages.
- A Virginia woman who was very unhappy with the work done by a local contractor wrote a negative review of the contractor on the online review site Yelp.com and was sued by the contractor for defamation in a Virginia court for $750,000 in defamation damages.
- F-Factor Diet Company sued an influencer for Posting 4,500 defamatory statements about the Company.
What Must You Prove Before You Can Sue For A Bad Online Review?
In Florida, defamation cases are governed by state common law, which means the courts (case law) have defined what constitutes defamation worthy of a damages award. Essentially, libel, and slander, are considered tort claims.
This means, when an individual, or business, files a defamation lawsuit they are claiming the defendant has committed an act (their false online review – on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Yelp, BBB, Ripoffreport, Amazon, Walmart, etc.) that has caused an injury to the person’s reputation; that’s because every person (and business) has the right to have their reputation free of harm by false information.
Elements of an Online Libel Claim
The elements of defamation as defined by Florida Supreme Court (Jews for Jesus, Inc. v. Rapp, 997 So. 2d 1098, 1106 (Fla. 2008)) are:
- an actor must act with knowledge or reckless disregard as to the falsity on a matter concerning a public [figure], or at least negligently on a matter concerning a private person or private business;
- actual damages (you will likely need to provide the names of people who actually heard or saw the defamation and show how you or your business was harmed); and
- the statement must be defamatory (liber or slander).
Stated another way, to establish a cause of action for defamation, the victim must prove that (1) the defendant published a false statement about the plaintiff, (2) to a third party, and (3) the falsity of the statement caused injury to the plaintiff.
What About Damages?
Damages must be established by admissible evidence unless the situation meets the standards of defamation per se, and defamation awards can include not only actual damages but compensatory and punitive damages, as well.
When it comes to bad online reviews, the most common damages are those related to lost income, which can be shown by lost opportunities and decline in current revenues, as well as damages to a company’s ability to access credit from lending institutions as well as its vendors.
More Issues to Consider When Suing For A Bad Online Review
There are nuances to online libel claims. For instance, libel can include malicious publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, sign, or otherwise than by mere speech of a matter that exposes a person or business to hatred, contempt, or ridicule that causes or tends to cause any person or business to be shunned or avoided by its customers, vendors, creditors and other lending institutions.
Additionally, there’s no law that limits a defamed plaintiff to one cause of action; plaintiffs can sue for defamation along with asserting other claims like intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Also, read: Defenses to Libel and Slander Claims
What Should You Do?
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed by a false online review, is to at least speak with an experienced defamation lawyer to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in-person) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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