Right to Post Negative Reviews

Defamation lawsuit served for a negative experience at obedience school.
By JoAnna Lou, March 2015
Online reviews have become a large part of how we choose restaurants, hotels, and other businesses to patronize. For small mom and pop shops, these testimonials can make or break their success. Positive reviews build a loyal fan base, while just one negative review can turn off countless potential customers. It's become a powerful way to give a voice to consumers.

When Jennifer Ujimori was dissatisfied with her puppy, Yuki's, obedience class in Virginia she took to Yelp and Angie's List to document her experience with Burke's Dog Tranquility. She said that the services delivered were not as advertised and that the owner refused a refund. Jennifer thought she'd never have to deal with the company again--until she was served a $65,000 defamation lawsuit. The company's owner, Colleen Dermott, claims that Jennifer's statements were false and damaged her small business, which had great reviews until that point.

While it would be easier for Jennifer to delete her review, she's standing by her decision to make a point. Lawsuits over negative reviews have risen in recent years and it can be difficult and expensive for defendants to fight as individuals coming up against a business. Virginia legislators are currently sitting on an anti-SLAPP law (strategic lawsuits against public participation) that would allow for the quick dismissal of cases a judge deems to be targeting First Amendment rights. Washington D.C. and more than half of the states have a similar law in place and Jennifer hopes her case will spark public attention to pressure lawmakers to pass the bill.

While online reviews are extremely subjective, and must be taken with a grain of salt, it's important to protect our right to post them.

Do you use online reviews to choose which businesses to visit with your dogs?

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.