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Negative Online Reviews: Freedom of Speech or Libel?

A dentist has sued two people for posting negative reviews on the online review site Yelp, accusing them of libel. The reviewer stated that her son felt "light headed" after a visit thanks to laughing gas, and was given fillings that contained mercury. While the dentist agrees that the fillings were mercury, she says that the parents should have read the disclosure form they signed. The dentist is now suing because she doesn't want "lies to be posted on the website" about her.

This isn't the first time someone has been sued for something they posted on the Internet. Last week another Yelp user was sued by a doctor, and a model recently sued Google for negative comments posted on a Blogger-hosted blog. Considering the often casual nature of online reviews, I can't help but think suing someone for something they posted would be like suing a person for casually telling a friend that a hairdresser gave them a bad haircut. Then again, a one-star review could really hurt a person's ability to make a living.

Under US law, websites that publish third-party reviews cannot be sued for that content. Should the law protect the reviewers, too?

Source

Join The Conversation
Meike Meike 8 years
Wow, I think the dentist just ruined her own career. It was one review on a website I've never heard of. Now, she has gone and sued her patients making it national news. That's rather negative publicity now. What person in need of a dentist is going to go to her now if she doesn't win her case?
genesisrocks genesisrocks 8 years
If it actually were a lie, than yeah it's libel but she was telling the truth
bastylefilegirl bastylefilegirl 8 years
Ummm what the lady said about her son being light headed and getting mercury fillings is true, and I don't think the dentist should be suing for libel what she is stating is fact. What I do think is someone at child protective services needs to check on this lady and make sure is is okay, how do you not know what kind of dental procedures are being performed on your child prior to them being done? I mean the dentist has a point, it was the mothers job to read the information regarding treatment.
MarinerMandy MarinerMandy 8 years
The dentist has every right to respond to the critique and make his case. That's the downside and the upside of the internet; criticisms reach more people, but you can respond to them. For this case to be libel, it must be untrue. Doesn't sound like it is.
Jude-C Jude-C 8 years
"I would never want to discourage people from publicizing inadequate or unsatisfactory medical care. Unless the reviews were actually lies (which it seems they were not), then I think it's a good thing they were posted. It sounds like an excellent way to promote consumer safety." Yes, exactly, Mich!
bluesarahlou bluesarahlou 8 years
As far as the dentist is concerned, suing and bringing attention to the negative review was probably not the best thing to do.
bluesarahlou bluesarahlou 8 years
My previous job had a negative review on Yelp and while it didn't actually effect their business, it was posted on every single other feedback site and ended up being the first 5 things that came up under a Google search of the company. Their representative ended up responding to the reviews in order to defend the company. I definitely think people should be allowed to voice their opinions of a company, but not if they're posting complete lies and misinformation (which in the case of my previous employer it was).
Michelann Michelann 8 years
I would never want to discourage people from publicizing inadequate or unsatisfactory medical care. Unless the reviews were actually lies (which it seems they were not), then I think it's a good thing they were posted. It sounds like an excellent way to promote consumer safety.
lildorothyparker lildorothyparker 8 years
Actually keiren, I'm well aware of the facts of the McDonald's coffee case (lilkimbo - I guess we're both being accused of ignorance today). Liebec attempted to add cream and sugar to her coffee while balancing the cup between her legs. If the temperature of the cup was truly too hot, she would have felt the heat through the paper cup and her cotton pants. Moral of the story: 1. Coffee is hot. 2. People need to learn to take responsibility for their own actions. I drink coffee. Actually, I drink a lot of coffee (probably too much) and I have occasionally burned my mouth, but I've never tried to sue anyone over it. Notice how I burned my mouth and not my legs: I have enough common sense not to use my legs as a table. Anyway, enough thread hijacking... Back to the main discussion.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 8 years
"Regardless of the legality, it seems like a poor business decision to sue someone over a bad online review. Way to bring more attention to it and to bring yourself negative publicity." agreed
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
And, other judges have dismissed cases claiming that the coffee served at McDonald's was beyond reasonable. In fact, in all of the cases involving McDonald's coffee and other coffee served at around at the same temperature, Liebeck's was the only one that wasn't dismissed. (Although, some others were settled out of court before they had the chance to be dismissed.)
kastarte2 kastarte2 8 years
I don't know. I think we have to draw the line somewhere. Like I can go online and say, "Anne Hathaway is a horrible actress" but should I be sued because I might have impacted her career by impacting others' opinion of her?
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
And, when she spilled it on her, she sat in it for almost two minutes, which was a big part of why she got the third degree burns.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Liz, it's interesting that you would assume I am misinformed. I actually did a case study on this story in undergrad, and I still believe (and the judge obviously did, too) that $2.9 million was an exorbitant amount. I would appreciate it if you didn't assume based on one post that I am misinformed.
StolzeMama StolzeMama 8 years
For the record, if you have a silver filling, it has mercury in it. It has proven to be safe in such small quantities. I think that is what the dentist is referencing to, like she is making out to seem that dentist shouldn't use those fillings. Like this doctor is doing something wrong. I would like to think that this doctor made an attempt to right things. I could be wrong. But people do throw willy-nilly comments around on the internet without proof. I know someone here in my area who was sued and lost because they wrote something on their car windows. Similar to this. Court said it is libel if it is written.
lizrocks lizrocks 8 years
Actually, lilkimbo, Stella wasn't the only one that complained about McDonald's coffee. For a long while people had complained about the fact that the coffee temperature was WELL beyond reasonable (including the health dept.) and when the coffee was spilled ON HER it gave her 3rd degree burns. There's a lot more to a story than one misinformed sentence.
starangel82 starangel82 8 years
Or you could get on the site and relpy to the negative review. Something like: "We're sorry you had a bad experience. We would like to make things right. Please call our office so we can discuss this matter." Or just call the patient if they list their full name.
True-Song True-Song 8 years
Regardless of the legality, it seems like a poor business decision to sue someone over a bad online review. Way to bring more attention to it and to bring yourself negative publicity. A much better idea would have been to ask other customers to leave online reviews for you if they were happy.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Oh, and I think a lawsuit over a blatantly false negative online review would have merit, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
I don't care what anyone says about Stella Liebeck. There is no way to defend the fact that she was awarded (but didn't actually receive, due to appeals, etc.) $2.9 million for spilling coffee on herself.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 8 years
Sue for everything... I'd be broke if it were possible to sue for every time I've told a friend about an awful experience with an orthopedic doctor or physical therapist.
MSucre MSucre 8 years
This is interesting. Just the other day I was at my long-time dentist (whom I LOVE) and I told her that I had read some great reviews about her on yelp when I googled her to find her office number. And she seemed weary. She said she doesn't like the online reviews because you can't ever take them down and she knew a colleague who got negative reviews. I told her that I thought the dentist/restaurant owner/hairdresser could respond to the reviews. I think that's the most important part. If people can RESPOND to the critiques and that the people critiquing cannot do some anonymously. If both of those are not met, then I think people should have the right to get upset.
Myst Myst 8 years
now this is ridiculous. This suing people left and right is getting out of control
momma-tikita momma-tikita 8 years
freedom of speech. Like kastarte said the mother went on the site and told the truth.
kastarte2 kastarte2 8 years
If the dentist doesn't want people thinking she uses mercury in her fillings, than she can stop using mercury in her fillings. The mother has every right to disclose that fact to other patients online. It isn't libel or lies if you admit that it is true. :shrug:
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