Be careful what you say

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Justice

Millions of us have turned online for more than just our grocery shopping during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and whether you’re in need of a lawnmower or a lawyer, online reviews play an important part in that final decision to purchase.

We are also very happy to share our opinions on social media or review sites; but the recent case of one man, who left a negative review online for a law firm and was subsequently ordered by a court to pay £25,000 in libel damages, highlights the dangers of publicly sharing your opinions.

Simon Roberts, principal associate solicitor at DAS Law, has put together some handy tips to help ensure your review doesn’t get you into hot water:

“Most importantly, tell the truth. An online review is not libellous if the statements contained in the review are true. You are entitled to give your honest opinion. A bad review is only defamatory if you make a false statement which is likely to cause financial loss to a business.

Freedom of expression has limits

“Nevertheless, whilst you have the right to freedom of expression, this is not an absolute right and does not give you the right to make defamatory statements. Avoid making such statements, but don’t be deterred from sharing your honest views and experiences. And, of course, don’t forget to try all available customer complaint channels too.”

But what are the consequences of getting it wrong? “A business pursuing a claim for libel without a just cause could prove costly as they could face huge legal fees if they are unsuccessful. However, if a business is successful in a defamation case against you, they would generally be able to recover compensation, legal costs and get a court order instructing you to remove your review from the website and publish an apology.

“For a business, an unhappy reviewer may not make pleasant reading, but a bad review does not always equate to a defamatory one. Court action should generally be the last resort as defamation claims could be very costly. If you are a business considering litigation then specialist advice must be sought.

“Businesses can report the comment to the website but if the comment is genuine the website is unlikely to take it down even if it appears to be defamatory. Many travel sites such as TripAdvisor allow businesses to provide a response to the review giving their side of the story.

“Like many aspects of law, common sense and truth are the watch-words. Whilst you’re entitled to express your views and post your opinions, be aware of the potential impact this may have on the hotel or business you stayed at. If your review is not truthful and has a negative financial impact, then your review could be considered libellous in a court of law.”

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.

Source: DAS Law

Image Credits: Sang Hyun Cho / Pixabay https://pixabay.com/photos/justice-statue-lady-justice-2060093/.

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