US couple forced to pay out for $15,000 after being sued for negative Yelp review

21st May 2015

A couple in Denver, Colorado has had to settle a court order to the tune of $15,000 after they were sued for posting a negative review.

Matt White and his fiancée, Amanda Jameer posted a review of Footprints Floors on Yelp back in 2013, describing work done to their house as an “absolutely horrible experience”, and complaining of “shoe prints in the stain, dust, debris” and that the job was “absolutely deplorable”.

Footprints subsequently filed a defamation lawsuit in response, saying that the review cost them 167 projects and $625,000 in revenue.

White settled the case for $15,000 citing it as being cheaper than going to trial, but refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement that would have kept them from discussing the case, calling it an “attack on free speech.”

Yelp’s response has been to condemn the case, stating “businesses that choose to sue their customers to silence them rather than address their comments, often bring additional unwanted attention to the original criticism.

“We frequently find that a better course of action, rather than suing your customers, is publicly responding to a critical review in the same forum,” a statement from the review platform said.  

Cases of businesses suing or fining customers for negative reviews are not uncommon, especially in the UK where recent examples include the Blackpool hotel which charged a Cumbrian couple £100 for posting an undesirable Trip Advisor review that called their accommodation a “rotten stinking hovel”.

And the possibility of customers being fined for reviews first raised its head back in March 2014, when a bride was almost sued over a review of her wedding photographer in which she commented negatively on the value of the service.

Prelini Udayan-Chiechi, VP of marketing for review platform, Bazaarvoice believes companies continue to try and fight negativity because they are often uninformed about the positive outcomes that can be had from review insight:

“While no brand likes to receive negative feedback or review, any effort to suppress legitimate, lower-rated or negative review content is not only a bad practice, but it’s also a missed opportunity for business owners and brands alike to better understand their customers and deliver the products and services they want.

“Embracing negative feedback allows organisations to gather insight into issues that they may not already be aware of, and/or make improvements to enhance the experience for their customers. It’s becoming a reoccurring theme to see a brand’s credibility and reputation be damaged by turning a blind eye to negative experiences.

“On the plus side, research from our Conversation Index Volume 8 has found that shoppers are more trusting of online reviews, +46%, when they know the reviews are not deleted for being negative. By taking customers' opinion on board and acting appropriately, numerous benefits can be gained, such as increased retention, conversion and a healthier bottom line.”      

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