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While Yelp, Angie’s List and Trip Advisor were once seen as outlets for everyday consumers to talk about their experiences, there are a growing number of defamation suits resulting from bad reviews.”The reputations of restaurants, nail salons, dry cleaners and other businesses can be made or shredded in a few keystrokes. For instance, a Chicago plastic surgeon sued after a Yelp reviewer said he gave her ‘Frankenstein breast,'” reports Justin Jouvenal at The Washington Post.
Another Yelp reviewer, Jane Perez, was being sued for $750,000 by a contractor she accused of stealing her jewelry and billing her for work he never completed, according to Jouvenal.
The lawsuits could set a troubling precedent whether the courts side with the reviewers or the businesses.
If people lose the right to comment freely on Yelp and other review sites, then average customers lose their right to free speech and businesses aren’t as accountable, Jouvenal writes.
But if reviewers prevail, then businesses could potentially be destroyed by people making false accusations online.
So far, there hasn’t been a clear winner in courts.
While some businesses have won million-dollar sums for their troubles, others lose and are met with media backlash because it’s perceived they’re trying to silence customers.
A lawyer also told the Post how people can avoid lawsuits online: “Stick to opinion and tell the truth, and you won’t get into trouble,” the lawyer said.