A lawyer sued his client for leaving a bad Yelp review on his firm. This ironic case only gets stranger, as the attorney lost the Lan Cai lawsuit.
Lan Cai is a 20-year-old waitress who had been driving home after 1 a.m. this Summer, a common time for employees working the restaurant industry’s closing shifts. Along the way, a drunk driver hit her with their SUV. Her injuries included two broken bones in her lower back, and she hadn’t understood how to use her car insurance, so she was unable to provide proof.
Lan had contacted Keith Nguyen, a lawyer from the Tuan A. Khuu firm, and found his services to be less than satisfactory and at times, intrusive. The latter was due to a time when she alleges the lawyer had come into her bedroom while she was indecent and asleep, which Nguyen countered with the revelation that her mother had invited him inside. Lan also stated that they told her nothing about what kind of doctor she needed, and they didn’t know where her car was.
Getting hit by a drunk driver was just the beginning of Lan Cai’s problems. https://t.co/bQGYEBf53T
— News-Democrat (@bellevillenewsd) December 3, 2016
The incident led to Lan taking to Facebook and Yelp with her plight in an effort to warn others of the law firm and its misdeeds, calling them “super unprofessional.”
The law firm replied with an order from attorney Keith Nguyen that Lan take down the posts, or they would take action.
This could have been a violation of the very reason why review sites like Yelp exist. When customers are not satisfied with service, they can warn others of the risk. Enough bad reviews can ruin a business, often when the complaints are similar. It is often the goal of a business to give the customer a level of service which will result in recommendations.
— Nuusie Tech (@Nuusie_Tech) December 3, 2016
Of course, some people use review sites simply to “throw shade” because they’re having a bad day, or as a venting outlet because a company offended their beliefs in some way.
Before fake news became an issue in the light of the 2016 elections, the lawyers at Tuan A. Khuu had thought that Lan Cai’s Facebook post and Yelp review were un-called for, according to Houston Press. Claiming that her words were defamatory, they followed through with their threat and ordered Lan to pay over $100,000 in damages for libel.
Attorney Michael Fleming initially thought it was a bogus case until he saw the media coverage.
“Whenever you see a situation where a lawsuit is being used to coerce somebody into taking an action – like removing an online review – it’s a red flag. The intention is to have a chilling effect and to stop other people from speaking out.”
The Fort Bend County Judge agreed, and thanks to the assistance of Michael Fleming, Cai is now expected to be rewarded over $26,000 plus all legal fees involved with the initial case.
Michael Fleming told ARS Technica that he’s content with the final ruling.
“We are very happy with the judge’s correct ruling in this case. Texas law specifically protects folks who are exercising their free speech rights and the statute was appropriately applied in this situation. People should be free to express their opinions without the threat of a lawsuit.”
It’s unknown how the Tuan A. Khuu law firm will recover from this blow to their reputation, or if similar cases have happened (and been silenced before they could get anywhere).
Lan Cai’s story of how a lawyer tried to sue her as a former client could be a warning to businesses everywhere which try to force consumers to take down bad reviews. It’s a violation of the Unites States’ freedom of speech.
[Featured Image by FabrikaSimf/Shutterstock]