Sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Angie’s List, where consumers can immediately recommend or dismiss an establishment, have become an integral part of the way people choose everything from their morning coffee to a tour through the Amazon rainforest.
While businesses are able to reap invaluable free advertising from what is basically a ratings-based bulletin board, not all of that talk is good. One off night might have been forgettable in the past, but Yelp and Angie’s List reviews are not so easily forgotten — and even worse, they are permanent.
That is unless the business owner under critique by sites like Yelp and Angie’s List joins a slowly growing number of businesses who are fighting back against what they see as one-sided and oftentimes passive aggressive versions of what happens in transactions with customers. This can be especially troublesome with services like a dog trainer, where expectations are not as clearly defined as, say, a meal at a mid-price restaurant.
One such dog trainer in Springfield, Missouri, has launched a $65,000 defamation lawsuit against a customer named Jennifer Ujimori, who complained in Yelp and Angie’s List reviews that her dog was not given the treatment that she had requested. Colleen Dermott, the owner of Dog Tranquility, tells a different story — one went as far as to offer a free class to Jennifer in order to make up for her disappointment, reported the Washington Post.
But Ujimori is not relenting on the original criticism that she left on Yelp and Angie’s List. In fact, she told the Post that she wants to use the lawsuit as an opportunity to set a precedent to protect negative reviews in the future. She hopes the state of Virginia will use it as a jumping point to ban strategic lawsuits against public participation.
“In a nutshell, the services delivered were not as advertised and the owner refused a refund… For me, it’s a matter of principle and public interest. People should be free to express their feelings about their service providers. Companies using the legal system to silence their critics has a chilling effect on First Amendment rights.”
The future landscape of the online review business has a lot at stake in cases like Ujimori’s and other defendants like her fighting against Yelp and Angie’s List review lawsuits. Jennifer’s attorney, Jonathan Phillips, noted that part of that has to do with how the severity of such a seemingly effortless action is defined.
“I do not believe a customer imagines that typing out a review of their experience followed by a few clicks can result in getting slapped with a $65,000 lawsuit.”
Do you think Yelp and Angie’s List reviews are a cause for a lawsuit?
[Images via Michael Dorausch, Flickr]