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Tortious Interference: When do Online Reviews Cross the Line?

| Aug 7, 2018 | General Law, Rapier & Bowling

If you read our previous article, What is Tort Law?”, then you probably already have some idea of what tortious interference is. Tort is a personal wrong committed against an individual that leads to civil liability. So, you can guess that tortious interference means wrongfully interfering. A good definition comes from Legal Dictionary: “Tortious interference is the act of intentionally interfering with someone’s business.” It is also, “the act of interfering with someone’s business by making a false claim that ultimately damages the business.”

Tortious Interference and Defamation in the News

It’s likely that you’re more familiar with the term defamation. In the U.S., everyone has a right to their good reputation. If someone else harms your good reputation by spreading false statements about you, it’s considered defamation of character. According to Lawshelf, defamation is “a communication that tends to harm the reputation of another, to lower his estimation in the community or deter third parties from associating with him.” Recently, both of these legal issues have been featured in the matter of online reviews. The question of when negative reviews become defamation and/or tortious interference puzzles many. This area of liability continues to grow and attract attention.   You may be familiar with the case of the Texas wedding photographer who successfully sued a couple intent on ruining her business. The couple left poor reviews and wrote numerous negative comments about the photographer on social media. As reported in the Washington Post, a Texas jury decided their actions “amounted to malicious defamation.” The judge ordered them to pay the photographer $1 million in damages for the loss of her business.

The Growing Power of Online Consumer Reviews

Consumer reviews are more powerful than ever in our digitally dominated time. In a Consumer Survey from BrightLocal:

  • 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Consumers read an average of seven reviews before trusting a business
  • Positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business more

Online reviews hold power. If you leave an inaccurate, negative one, you may be opening yourself up to being sued for tortious interference and/or defamation.

How to Leave a Negative Review

Here are some ways to try and prevent your online reviews from leading to a tortious interference lawsuit, or one for defamation.

Be Accurate and Truthful

Stick to the facts. If you took your car in to be repaired and the mechanic did not repair it, you can state that. But don’t get over-the-top describing your feelings about the matter with statements like “he’s obviously the worst mechanic in the city!”You may express opinions, such as “I disliked the color scheme in this restaurant.” But saying something like “Stay away from this place! The colors will make you sick” presents problems.

Keep Records

If you’ve had a bad experience with a business and you have any documentation regarding the matter, make sure to keep copies of it.

Never Threaten a Business

Say you email a company that disappointed you. You might present your case and ask for a refund. But tell them you are going to start a campaign to ruin their reputation and you are asking for trouble.   As you can see, these matters can become complicated in a hurry. Personal opinions are protected, of course. Remember, though, that your opinion can slide into a defamatory statement without you even realizing it. If you have questions or concerns regarding tortious interference and defamation, feel free to reach out to our team of legal experts here at Rapier & Bowling.   IMAGE: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

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