If An Online Review Is Libelous, You May Be Able To Collect Damages

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Being a lawyer in the Yelp/Avvo era can be tough. People get to review your services online and, while some of those may be honest (and perhaps chock full of praise!) some of them are just venting by an unhappy client. Usually, there is nothing to be done. People throw up some anonymous hate and move on, and you hope that potential clients take such things with a grain of salt.

Sometimes, though, people engage in that two-minute hate in a verified review. And sometimes they use their real names or are otherwise identifiable. And sometimes they are actually just completely lying. Then, at least if you are in Florida or a state with similar libel laws, you can win damages. 

Ann-Marie Giustibelli represented Copia Blake in a divorce proceeding, but somewhere in that process, things went sideways and broke down. Blake decided a good way to deal with this was to post defamatory reviews.

Some of the offending statements:

“She misrepresented her fees with regards to the contract I initially signed. The contract she submitted to the courts for her fees were 4 times her original quote and pages of the original had been exchanged to support her claims…”

“No integrity. Will say one thing and do another. Her fees outweigh the truth.”

“Altered her charges to 4 times the original quote with no explanation.”

If those things were true, that is obviously objectively a bad thing and that sort of information should be disseminated so people avoid that sort of lawyer. Except none of it was true.

At trial, the defendants admitted the claim that Giustibelli  had charged them four times the quoted fee was not true, but said their statements were protected by the First Amendment as a statement of opinion. The court, thankfully, noted that the statements the defendants made were demonstrably false and therefore not protected speech. It might be worth keeping an eye on those online reviews after all.

Featured image: “Write LIBEL in The hanging projection screen” from Shutterstock.

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