A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Yelp

Carry on, Yelpers

Yelp Sign

By Jennifer Williams

It’s hard to remember a time when I made a decision like where to eat or who to hire to paint my apartment without the help of reviewers and critics on websites like Yelp.

These sites all but eliminate the need for trial and error. I know the little place to get really good Mexican food. And I know about (and avoid) the Italian restaurant  with overpriced menu options (I am, after all, a poor law student).

But when reviews lead us astray, there is no better vindication for a cold meal, dirty restaurant, horrible service, or (__________________enter your complaint here), than ranting from the safety of your own computer. After all, others will see the seething review and, if you’re lucky, will avoid the establishment you tell them to at all costs.

A relatively painless catharsis, right? Wrong.

As one reviewer in Fairfax, Virginia recently learned, a spiteful review may come back to haunt you.

Jane Perez took to sites like Yelp and Angie’s List to leave searing reviews of the general contracting company that had, in her mind, done far less than acceptable work. According to Ms. Perez, Christopher Dietz and his contracting company, Dietz Development, had done damage to her home, charged for work that wasn’t completed, and was responsible for the mysterious disappearance of some of her jewelry. “Bottom line,” Ms. Perez cautioned, “do not put yourself through this nightmare of a contractor.”

Mr. Dietz didn’t shake it off or create fake positive reviews to counter Ms. Perez. Instead, he filed a defamation suit against Ms. Perez claiming her reviews were false and damaged his reputation. He is seeking $750,000 and sought an injunction requiring her to stop commenting about his company and to remove the comments already made.

Is it possible that my fellow Yelpers (and I) could be subject to a defamation lawsuit for commenting about goods or services online? On behalf of reviewers everywhere, LASIS investigated.

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