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Kevin O'Flaherty

In the age of the digital world, online reviews have become a substantial influence on our decision-making process. Where we shop and dine and what services we choose to use can be impacted by what kind of reviews we see online. Negative reviews can significantly impact a business or individual's reputation. In certain situations, the recipients of these negative reviews may feel the need to seek legal action against the reviewer. But some may ask, is it legally possible to sue someone for leaving a bad review? Our litigation attorneys will explore this issue's legal aspects in this article.

Understanding Freedom of Speech

In the Constitution, freedom of speech is a fundamental right that is protected. Under freedom of speech, individuals can express their opinions, even the negative ones, without fear of retaliation. There is a high threshold for lawsuits against negative reviews because of these protections. Expressing an honest opinion or sharing factual information is protected speech.

Defamation and Libel

There are, of course, limits to freedom of speech. Defamation and libel are legal claims that can arise if false statements are made with the intent to harm someone's reputation. Defamation is spoken false statements, while libel refers to the written or published side of false statements. To successfully sue for defamation or libel, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the statement was false, damaging to their reputation, and made with malicious intent or reckless disregard for the truth. Proving all of these things may prove a challenge in court which is why it is essential to consult an experienced litigation attorney who will be able to give you a better idea of how much of a case you may have. For more detailed information on defamation, please read our article, Suing For Defamation In Illinois.

Person leaving for star review on their phone for food

Opinion vs. Fact

When looking at the other side of things, it is essential for reviews to consider the distinction between fact and opinion before leaving a review. Opinions are subjective expressions of one's beliefs and are protected as free speech if they are not false statements. Legal consequences may come into the picture if reviewers begin to use false claims in their opinions rather than clearly expressing their opinion with facts. In defamation cases, the truth plays a significant role. However, proving the truthfulness of a statement can sometimes be challenging. The burden of proof often lies with the defendant to demonstrate the accuracy of their statements.

Qualified Privilege and Public Interest

Additional protection against defamation claims may come in the form of public interest or within a privileged context. Qualified privilege is a defense that allows individuals to express statements without fear of legal repercussions if they have a legitimate interest in the subject matter and are acting in good faith.

What are Remedies and Counterclaims?

While it is possible to seek legal remedies, as mentioned above, there are other approaches to resolving the issue at hand. Initiating a lawsuit can be a complex and costly process. There is no guarantee that in every jurisdiction, the court will award damages for minor reputational harms caused by a bad review. It is also essential to consider the possibility of a counterclaim from the reviewer to defend themselves. They can assert their right to free speech or argue that their statements were factual.

Alternative Approaches

Many businesses may choose alternative approaches to litigation for addressing negative reviews. Engaging with the reviewer to resolve the issue, encouraging more positive reviews to counterbalance the negative ones, or utilizing reputation management services to minimize the impact of negative feedback are all valid options to address the negative review without litigation.

While freedom of speech provides broad protection against negative reviews, the legal landscape surrounding bad reviews is nuanced. Generally, individuals have the right to express their opinions as long as they do not cross the line into defamation or make false factual claims. In many cases, pursuing legal action for a bad review can be challenging and costly and may yield a different outcome than what is anticipated. It is generally encouraged for businesses to consider alternative strategies to manage their online reputation effectively and to contact a litigation attorney for additional support on the matter.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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