Defamation Suit for Online Review

by Anna_21 2013-08-25
What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)? GA


Hi everyone,

I recently had some work done at home and my experience with the contractor was very negative. As such, I left a negative review on a few websites including Yelp, Kudzu, and Google. I received a letter this morning from an attorney claiming my posts constitute defamation and demands that I "remove the posting and retract the statements regarding [the contractor]." It also states a demand "that you cease and desist from any further attempts to injure, defame, or interfere with the business of [the contractor]."

The reviews I posted consist of facts but based on research a few things I posted cannot be proved in a court of law and I don't want to take that risk. They also contain some opinions and feelings based claims including "he will rob you blind." With that said, though, I strongly feel that this contractor has positive reviews online by using this tactic against others and I truly feel that someone has to take a stand. Most people don't know better and are being overcharged and unnecessary work is being performed. Based on the letter I received I can truly see how he has only positive reviews online.

My questions are as follow.

1. If I edit my post and take out anything that cannot be proven in court but leave facts in (such as charges from his invoice to me) would that violate the "interfere with the business of" clause above and would this still constitute defamation?
2. In my reviews left for them can I mention the fact that I was contacted by the contractor's attorney and asked to remove my previous review because, allegedly, it constituted defamation?


Here's a quick structure of what I would like the new review to say.
"This is my experience with the contractor. Your experience may or may not be the same.
Called contractor, symptoms included xyz. I advised him that websites list cause1 as the cause.
01/01/13: Charged $250 for 'installation of xyz'. Item installed: (model number), cost as of 01/01/13 on homedepot.com: $50. Day's total invoice: $380
01/02/13: Charged $450 for 'xyz', $250 for 'xyz'.
01/03/13: Finally did a test for cause1 and fixed the cause.
01/04/13: Leak in pipes installed on 01/01/13 caused basement to be flooded and damaged items.
01/05/13: Negative reviews posted online.
01/15/13: Contacted by contractor's attorney stating review left on 01/05/13 constitutes defamation and must be retracted.
01/17/13: Reviews edited to remove opinions and to contain only facts that can be proved in a court of law."

Help will be truly appreciated.
Re:Defamation Suit for Online Review
by El_greco
What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)? GA


Hi everyone,

I recently had some work done at home and my experience with the contractor was very negative. As such, I left a negative review on a few websites including Yelp, Kudzu, and Google. I received a letter this morning from an attorney claiming my posts constitute defamation and demands that I "remove the posting and retract the statements regarding [the contractor]." It also states a demand "that you cease and desist from any further attempts to injure, defame, or interfere with the business of [the contractor]."

The reviews I posted consist of facts but based on research a few things I posted cannot be proved in a court of law and I don't want to take that risk. They also contain some opinions and feelings based claims including "he will rob you blind." With that said, though, I strongly feel that this contractor has positive reviews online by using this tactic against others and I truly feel that someone has to take a stand. Most people don't know better and are being overcharged and unnecessary work is being performed. Based on the letter I received I can truly see how he has only positive reviews online.

My questions are as follow.

1. If I edit my post and take out anything that cannot be proven in court but leave facts in (such as charges from his invoice to me) would that violate the "interfere with the business of" clause above and would this still constitute defamation?
2. In my reviews left for them can I mention the fact that I was contacted by the contractor's attorney and asked to remove my previous review because, allegedly, it constituted defamation?


Here's a quick structure of what I would like the new review to say.
"This is my experience with the contractor. Your experience may or may not be the same.
Called contractor, symptoms included xyz. I advised him that websites list cause1 as the cause.
01/01/13: Charged $250 for 'installation of xyz'. Item installed: (model number), cost as of 01/01/13 on homedepot.com: $50. Day's total invoice: $380
01/02/13: Charged $450 for 'xyz', $250 for 'xyz'.
01/03/13: Finally did a test for cause1 and fixed the cause.
01/04/13: Leak in pipes installed on 01/01/13 caused basement to be flooded and damaged items.
01/05/13: Negative reviews posted online.
01/15/13: Contacted by contractor's attorney stating review left on 01/05/13 constitutes defamation and must be retracted.
01/17/13: Reviews edited to remove opinions and to contain only facts that can be proved in a court of law."

Help will be truly appreciated.

You are wise to correct the review - but if I were you, I'd remove it completely.

You are right in thinking "He will rob you blind" is a major problem and is absolutely actionable.

But again, if it were me? I would simply remove it completely. You're walking something of a fine line, and since they have already involved an attorney that might just tip the balance against you.
Re:Defamation Suit for Online Review
by Ineedhelpplease
Thank you so much for your reply. You're correct that it would be the best course of action. I somehow feel that I need to warn others to be careful in dealing with him. Is there anything I can do at all, even just editing my review to a simple "I wish I hadn't hired him. Bad experience but retracting my review as asked by his attorney."?
Re:Defamation Suit for Online Review
by Melaniep
What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)? GA


Hi everyone,

I recently had some work done at home and my experience with the contractor was very negative. As such, I left a negative review on a few websites including Yelp, Kudzu, and Google. I received a letter this morning from an attorney claiming my posts constitute defamation and demands that I "remove the posting and retract the statements regarding [the contractor]." It also states a demand "that you cease and desist from any further attempts to injure, defame, or interfere with the business of [the contractor]."

The reviews I posted consist of facts but based on research a few things I posted cannot be proved in a court of law and I don't want to take that risk. They also contain some opinions and feelings based claims including "he will rob you blind." With that said, though, I strongly feel that this contractor has positive reviews online by using this tactic against others and I truly feel that someone has to take a stand. Most people don't know better and are being overcharged and unnecessary work is being performed. Based on the letter I received I can truly see how he has only positive reviews online.

My questions are as follow.

1. If I edit my post and take out anything that cannot be proven in court but leave facts in (such as charges from his invoice to me) would that violate the "interfere with the business of" clause above and would this still constitute defamation?
2. In my reviews left for them can I mention the fact that I was contacted by the contractor's attorney and asked to remove my previous review because, allegedly, it constituted defamation?


Here's a quick structure of what I would like the new review to say.
"This is my experience with the contractor. Your experience may or may not be the same.
Called contractor, symptoms included xyz. I advised him that websites list cause1 as the cause.
01/01/13: Charged $250 for 'installation of xyz'. Item installed: (model number), cost as of 01/01/13 on homedepot.com: $50. Day's total invoice: $380
01/02/13: Charged $450 for 'xyz', $250 for 'xyz'.
01/03/13: Finally did a test for cause1 and fixed the cause.
01/04/13: Leak in pipes installed on 01/01/13 caused basement to be flooded and damaged items.
01/05/13: Negative reviews posted online.
01/15/13: Contacted by contractor's attorney stating review left on 01/05/13 constitutes defamation and must be retracted.
01/17/13: Reviews edited to remove opinions and to contain only facts that can be proved in a court of law."

Help will be truly appreciated.
As a note, editing and revising your review at this point in time will not prevent a lawsuit from being filed against you. Any harm that has come to the contractor and his business from the many negative reviews you left could still potentially support a defamation suit (depending on all that you wrote).

The attorney letter has advised you already as to what the contractor deems acceptable (removal and retraction). According to Georgia's retraction statute, a person defamed must request a retraction 7 days prior to filing a defamation suit. Upon receipt of such a notice, the person targeted by the notice has 7 days to comply with the request in order to limit or mitigate damages that could potentially be awarded in a suit.

Had you originally written only provable facts relating to your own personal experience, without opinions that implied facts and without exaggerations or embellishments, then the review would have been okay from a "losing lawsuit" point of view (not necessarily from preventing a lawsuit from being filed anyway).

Now you are left with the decision to delete and retract or face legal action that can result in an award of damages greater than they would be if you had retracted all false statements upon notice.

Sites like Yelp and Ripoff Report and RateMy sites and Gripe sites have all drawn a fair share of defamation lawsuits. Damages awarded to companies and professionals defamed on these sites have, at times, exceeded one million dollars.

Consumers who write negative reviews are often uninformed or misinformed about free speech and its limits. Comments that are false and that impugn the honesty or skill or fitness or ethical standards or financial capacity of a professional person or a business entity fall within the defamation per se category under many state's defamation laws. When a statement is made that is defamatory per se the courts presume reputational injury (no proof is needed) and damages can be awarded on this presumed injury.

Consult with an attorney in Georgia who is well-versed in defamation law to see what your best course of action is but I agree with Proserpina.

On those sites where you can delete your reviews and add a retraction, it might be smart to do so. If you cannot delete your review because of the type of site where you posted, a retraction can at least mitigate any damages that might otherwise be awarded should the contractor decide to take you to court.

Edit to add: Your retraction needs to be full and complete. While, again, an original review such as you are proposing for your retraction would have been fine, as a retraction itself it falls short.

Additional edit to add: For a review of Georgia retraction law, visit the following Digital Media Law Project site: http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/retraction-law-georgia
Re:Defamation Suit for Online Review
by Margaret
Thank you so much for your reply. You're correct that it would be the best course of action. I somehow feel that I need to warn others to be careful in dealing with him. Is there anything I can do at all, even just editing my review to a simple "I wish I hadn't hired him. Bad experience but retracting my review as asked by his attorney."?

Yes, that wording would not be actionable - there'd really be nothing they could do to you. It also - to me - gets the message across that you were unhappy with his service.

I feel your pain, and wish you good luck!
Re:Defamation Suit for Online Review
by Nadinerosado
Thank you both.

What should be in a retraction? If I am posting a retraction what should be done with the facts that were in the original review?

I apologize for so many questions. As a retraction can I just edit the review to say which portions I am retracting as they are based on opinion and leave the ones that were based on facts?

I truly appreciate the guidance.
Re:Defamation Suit for Online Review
by Paulw32
Thank you Quincy. I've deleted the reviews from sites that allowed me to and edited the comments to remove all content on others. The reviews were only up for 14 days so him taking me to court should cost him a lot more than any amount of damages he can claim to have been caused during that period if he can prove them at all.

I truly believe this was an intimidation tactic. The way he works should be obvious to those who research what they are told rather than just taking his word. I wish I could have aided others in making informed decisions but it wasn't worth the hassle. One day I hope someone stands up against him.

I was too caught up in freedom of speech, facts, and warning others to realize that the law is the law and it can be unpredictable. It's just better in this case to avoid this situation and this person as much as I can. He's not worth my time or effort.

Thank you again Quincy and Proserpina for your help and guidance.
Re:Defamation Suit for Online Review
by Nliush
First, I recommend you have your reviews examined by an attorney in your area. It is possible (perhaps not probable) that there is nothing that you wrote that could support a defamation suit and the attorney letter you received on behalf of the contractor is for intimidation purposes only. No one likes a negative review and intimidating a critic into silence is one way to eliminate them.

If it is determined that what you wrote is or was, in fact, defamatory and can cause or has caused harm to the contractor in his business, then you have options - only one of which could potentially help you avoid a lawsuit (although there is no guarantee of this).

You have the option of editing and revising your review to state only provable facts, and then hope the contractor does not file suit against you over your previous reviews for the harm caused in the time they were online. This can be a risk.

You have the option of leaving your reviews as they are and hope they do not spawn a lawsuit which, if you lose (but even if you eventually win) can be a costly alternative. This is riskier.

You have the option of following exactly what was demanded of you in the letter and completely removing your reviews from their places online and replacing them with retractions. This can be the safest route to take but, if you choose this option, I suggest you demand in return a letter from the contractor saying he will not sue.

Retractions must be placed in approximately the same location as the original and be of approximately the same size (take up the same amount of space), this so it is conceivable that the same people who saw the negative review will see the retraction. There should be no waffling in what you write - all that needs correcting must be corrected without excuse. The retraction should be clear and concise and contain no qualifiers (ie, "It was my opinion and I still feel the same way but I was told to make changes" is not good).

BUT, because there can be problems that come with retractions, I strongly recommend you consult with an attorney in your area before doing anything. A retraction is, in effect, admitting what you wrote was wrong, false or defamatory. You do not necessarily want to admit this, certainly not before you have consulted with an attorney in your area for a personal review of the matter and discussed the pros and cons of the options available to you.

You have 7 days after receipt of the notice advising you to post a retraction to publish this retraction. Again, see the Digital Media Law Project's site for more information: http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/retraction-law-georgia.

Good luck.
Re:Defamation Suit for Online Review
by jenniwhittaker
Thank you Quincy. I've deleted the reviews from sites that allowed me to and edited the comments to remove all content on others. The reviews were only up for 14 days so him taking me to court should cost him a lot more than any amount of damages he can claim to have been caused during that period if he can prove them at all.

I truly believe this was an intimidation tactic. The way he works should be obvious to those who research what they are told rather than just taking his word. I wish I could have aided others in making informed decisions but it wasn't worth the hassle. One day I hope someone stands up against him.

I was too caught up in freedom of speech, facts, and warning others to realize that the law is the law and it can be unpredictable. It's just better in this case to avoid this situation and this person as much as I can. He's not worth my time or effort.

Thank you again Quincy and Persopina for your help and guidance.
I think you are smart to remove the reviews and edit, although I still suggest you visit the site I linked to in both my posts. Georgia's retraction statute is apparently being applied to more than just the traditional press. You may still wish to speak with an attorney in your area to ensure that deleting and editing will protect you enough should the contractor sue. I agree it is probably unlikely but . . .

For any future reviews you may want to write, you might find the information available on the Knight Community News Network site helpful: http://www.kcnn.org. Look for the "10 Legal Risks" module, which has tips for online writers on how to avoid a lawsuit.
Re:Defamation Suit for Online Review
by nunovix
Thanks for sharing those links. I looked through the one about the retraction law just now. I'm still a bit unsure of how to retract the "he will rob you blind" portion which was meant to be an opinion. The rest of my review advised folks to do Google searches for part costs to verify what he said they cost (he overstated the item's cost 5x) and also laid out how much he charged for the work done.

I will consult an attorney as you suggested and if the contractor still does decide to take me to court, I may be able to counter-sue for damages caused by work he did that caused my AC to leak water and damage items sitting next to it. I'm hoping this in addition to the review only being online for 14 days thus limiting to the amount of damages he can claim and the legal fees he will incur in taking me to court will be enough of a deterrent to consider this the end of this matter.

Thank you once again. You've truly made a difference in my life by helping me with this. More so than you know.

Edit: I'm also bookmarking the kcnn.org link.
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