Write a Scathing Review? You Could be Sued for That

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If you’re afraid of getting sued over posting a bad Yelp review of a contractor who screwed up your remodel or of that renowned restaurant that burned your food, four lawmakers are out to make sure you may freely speak your mind.

Their bipartisan Consumer Review Freedom Act would make it illegal for businesses to penalize customers who write negative reviews on Yelp or other online review sites.

It has happened.

  • Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, attempted to fine wedding parties $500 for any negative online reviews posted by any members of their parties. It backed down in the face of a backlash from consumers.
  • A Utah couple, Jen and John Palmer, were fined $3,500 by KlearGear for violation of a non-disparagement clause after they posted a negative review online about their experience ordering a desk ornament and key chain. When they refused to pay, the company reported their debt to the credit bureaus, damaging their credit rating.
  • Jane Perez of Virginia was slapped with a $750,000 lawsuit by Dietz Development after she accused the construction company on Yelp and Angie’s List of damaging her house, trespassing and stealing jewelry.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to worry about being punished for posting an honest review,” Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said in a prepared statement introducing the bill. “This is commonsense bipartisan legislation to ensure the rights of consumers are protected and businesses are prevented from silencing fair criticism.”

Joining him in efforts to pass the act are Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Brad Sherman, D Calif., and Blake Farenthold, R-Tex.

The four said they were inspired by companies attempting to dissuade people from writing honest reviews by slipping non-disparagement clauses in their consumer contracts.

This is an example of a non-disparagement clause:

By signing this contract, you agree that you will not make or encourage any disparaging comments about [company name] ever in any form verbal or written.

The bill if passed would declare non-disparagement clauses unenforceable and empower the Department of Justice and state attorneys general to take action against businesses that include them. California enacted a state law banning non-disparagement clauses last year.

The Swalwell bill also would prohibit businesses from claiming they own the rights to anything customers may say about them, supposedly giving them the right to quash bad reviews by having online sites remove them.

Have you experienced any fallout from writing unflattering reviews? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page. And share this article on your Facebook page.

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