Can a Yelp.com reviewer face defamation claims for leaving an unflattering review?
As you are likely aware, Yelp.com has become a preeminent source for peer reviews of everything from restaurants to recreational events. The site has come under fire in the past, however, by owners who claim significant and irreversible pecuniary loss as a result of negative reviews from anonymous patrons – or, perhaps, even from those who were never patrons in the first place.
Historically, the laws of defamation have worked to compensate victims of slander or libel for financial losses incurred as a result of untrue statements that are exceptionally derogatory and inflammatory. However, when these laws were first contemplated, the concept of online peer reviews was barely a glimmer on the horizon. So, how does defamation doctrine operate in this context?
Before discussing the legal considerations of a Yelp.com-related defamation suit, it helps to know some of the lingo. First, lawsuits in this context – which are generally not designed to reap great financial rewards as much as to serve a greater principled purpose – are known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPP lawsuits. So far, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed anti-SLAPP legislation (including Nevada) – and many are hoping Congress will take heed and make similar strides in protecting honest, but disgruntled, reviewers from the costs of defamation litigation designed to censor or silence them.
In May, 2015, the Speak Free Act was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives, backed heavily by lobbying efforts advanced by Yelp.com and similar tech companies. In essence, the bill would require the petitioner (i.e., party seeking compensation) to prove at the outset that the lawsuit is likely to prevail. If not, the lawsuit must be dismissed with prejudice, thereby protecting the online reviewer from having to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal defense fees.
If your business is facing a lawsuit or you would like to discuss your rights in light of Nevada’s anti-SLAPP laws,which were just amended on June 1, 2015,, please do not hesitate to contact Stone Law Offices. Our expert attorneys serve clients in Las Vegas, throughout the state of Nevada, and nationwide. We can be reached at 877-800-3424