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back to article Business sues for $750,000 over bad Yelp review

An American woman is being sued for three quarters of a million dollars for giving a local building contractor a scathing write-up on crowd-sourced reviews sites Yelp and Angie's List. Jane Perez, a retired captain in the armed services living in Virginia, wrote the bad reviews about Washington DC building contractor Dietz …

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FAIL

This will surely...

...make prospective customers trust him more!

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Meh

It took

2 years for a guest house owner in Scotland to get rid of a review on Trip advisor from a guest who had never been a guest at his property.

A threat of legal action where lies are concerned is justified, however if the review is justified it is up to the business to show some good customer service.

It is rare but occasionally you do get the customer who you bend over backwards for but is still a complete arse.

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Headmaster

Re: "A threat of legal action where lies are concerned is justified"

Morally speaking I would agree with that and in the UK you could certainly sue on that basis. However, although IANL I seem to remember that in the US you have to be able to prove malicious intent before you can successfully sue someone for slander/libel, that which we in the UK would call "malicious libel/slander"*. What appears to be different in this case is local state law with regard to the specific issue of falsely accusing someone of a criminal offence.

*Which is seen here as an accusation so serious that Judges have directed the jury to use the criminal burden of proof, "beyond reasonable doubt", rather than the civil law evaluation of "balance of probability".

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Anonymous Coward

Unfortunately

Some people who live in a bubble and believe they are loved by everyone, and it comes as a complete shock that they find people who cannot stand them.

They find this distressing and then look for affirmation that they are wonderful, further alienating other people.

The point in time comes when no one can stand the sight or sound of them.

At this stage you may think that they would become aware of their short comings, but no they continue on and blame everyone else but themselves for their predicament.

Finally someone takes them to one side tries to be nice and tells them why they are in this situation. The nice guy who is trying to help then becomes the enemy.

The bottom line is that people like this exist everywhere, they have sad unsatisfactory lives during which they look for things to complain about because it affirms their own self belief in themselves.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It took

"It is rare but occasionally you do get the customer who you bend over backwards for but is still a complete arse."

we Own and run a guest house in Blackpool and know only too well that you can try as hard as you like to please some people but never will.... I always wonder what people want or expect when you pay £25 per person per night? some I imagine are expecting the Ritz or The Dorchester in London.

We keep the place impeccably clean and as good a full English breakfast as anywhere, but some want and expect room service !!!

Having been doing this for 12 years now, and doing quite well, even in the current economic climate, I stopped worrying about trying to please everyone. You soon work out who is awkward for the sake of awkward and are happy if they never return !

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Re: "A threat of legal action where lies are concerned is justified"

Generally you have to prove malicious intent and a reckless disregard for the truth. But as the reviewer accused the contractor of a criminal act, the courts will assume malicious intent, and place the burden on the reviewer to prove their side.

This case isn't as grey as many online review challenges because the accusation of a crime is a provable fact and not an opinion. Had the reviewer stuck to her opinion of the quality and scope of the work, then they would be legally protected, and winning a suit (and a pre-suit injunction) would be difficult.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Unfortunately

Why do the first five paragraphs of this comment make me think of the relationship between the USA and a large part of the world?

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OK, I want some work done on my house. Dietz Development, right, what are they like? Let's just check Google: oh, they got a bad review once and what? Sued for three-quarters of a million dollars? OK, moving on, let's look at the other firms.

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Anonymous Coward

So it would be better for him to not bother challenging the bad review and just let it stand?

People who are honest will challenge anyone that leaves a false review. Anyone who isn't honest may do also, so it's hard to know either way. The legal process will sort this out, that is what is it for.

I really hope someone makes an incorrect allegation against you someday, maybe then you will realise why people have to go to court to protect their business.

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"I really hope someone makes an incorrect allegation against you someday, maybe then you will realise why people have to go to court to protect their business."

Some people don't like some people. Get over it. My point was that rather than protecting his business he has annihilated it, to remove one negative review on Yelp. So well done him.

"So it would be better for him to not bother challenging the bad review and just let it stand?"

Clearly the answer is yes. Look up Streisand effect, come back and we'll talk again.

Oh, and by the way: AC? Nice touch with the whole having a go at me on an online forum in a thread about defamation.

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There's a big difference between claiming someone didn't give you good service or that the work was shoddy, and claiming that they commited illegal acts such as theft and such.

Those acts are subject to defamation suits.

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"There's a big difference between claiming someone didn't give you good service or that the work was shoddy, and claiming that they commited illegal acts such as theft and such.

Those acts are subject to defamation suits."

Indeed, and he is well within his rights to sue for defamation. Of course, the damages awarded might well be minimal because he has pretty much imploded his business with the lawsuit itself, so arguably his own actions caused far greater damage. You could say that ultimately that is Jane Perez's fault as well for starting the chain of events, or was it Dietz's fault for agreeing to do the work in the first place, or Yelp's fault for starting a business where Perez could air her grievances? Or Tim Berners-Lee's fault? Of course the last few examples are facetious, but serve to demonstrate that it becomes eventually pointless to argue for the "true" cause of a chain of events in many situations.

The whole point of this is to once again point out that the Streisand effect is alive and well. If someone calls you a paedophile very quietly, don't turn round and shout "did you say I am a paedophile?" at the top of your voice. It might not be nice that the initial accusation is made, but once it's done you then want to repair the damage as best you can. Suing rarely does that.

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The thing about reviews...

is you can get good ones to offset the bad ones. Of course that means some people may forge their good reviews, but much better then pouring petrol onto the fire.

A profession which there is much stories of bad doings, taking a retired military force member to court in the USA.... Me thinks this won't stand up very well...

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If I read one bad review, I'll take it into account along with other reviews. It may be one disgruntled or disputatious customer, or just a prankster, as already mentioned. I don't think that this on its own wiped out the guy's business. Potential customers would take another look before deciding.

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@DavCrav RE: "AC? Nice touch with the whole having a go at me on an online forum........

.............in a thread about defamation.

Ouch! All I can say is you hit that one right in the bull.

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I tend to take bad reviews with a pinch of salt when I read them. People are more likely to complain than commend. Heck I've looked at some reviews and people have awarded 1* because they didn't realize the product they were buying needed XXX adapter, even though it says clearly in the description.

As far as this is concerned, she should have been more careful about the "things had gone missing" part, tresspassing I can understand, but could have been worded better. I've seen builders where you tell them what the problem is, and then half an hour later find them in a completely different room. It's what builders do, normally it's with good reason.

But taking her to court over a single review was just silly. At least explore the other options first, send over somebody to assess what she's complaining about and then take her to court so it at least looks like you tried.

Place your bets that half the problems were. "They left the drywall I got them to plaster un-painted, and they didn't hoover up after themselves"

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Well,

it all depends on which one is telling the truth. Was it a bad review citing legit grievances, or slander? That's for the courts to decide.

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Re: Well,

Quite. But theft's for the *criminal* court to decide, and presumably she reported it at the time and the police decided there wasn't enough proof. Innocent until proven guilty....

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Pirate

Re: Well,

things went missing while employees of this company were performing work in the house. Police are unable to determine which employee was responsible, therefore no criminal charges. but things still when missing.

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Perhaps if he had performed the contracted work in a timely and professional manner he wouldn't have gotten a bad review. Maybe if he had attempted to make things right with his client, she wouldn't have raked him over the coals online. However, I don't want to just say everything is his fault because I know from personal experience that you just can't please some people. She may have kept adding more work or changes to the original contract and didn't want to pay anything extra for it.

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Anonymous Coward

Perhaps if he had performed the contracted work in a timely and professional manner he wouldn't have gotten a bad review.....

with the exception of the person who posted the review says he didn't?

Maybe if he had attempted to make things right with his client, she wouldn't have raked him over the coals online

with the exception of the person who posted the review says he didn't?

It was not too long back that builders were at the mercy of the less scrupulous customers, who contracted work, paid deposits etc, then as soon as the work was finished refuse to pay, claiming bad working practices, theft and other nasty comments... it then took the builders a legal fight to get paid. When you count up that cost, sometimes it was more cost effective to walk away, particularly when it was the smaller jobs, like a garden wall, or tiling a kitchen etc...

One builder, a personal friend of mine after this happened about 5 times in the one year, nearly went bankrupt, and now for small jobs demands payment if full on the day work starts. larger jobs deposits and regular payments as each part is complete....

Its always the same. the bastards who scam others, spoil things for everyone else. Look at the price of car insurance due to dubious personal injury claims etc?

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Holmes

Builders at the mercy of customers. Yep.

I know this chap, he did a renovation job for a lawyer - a bathroom that needed a good amount of work.

After the work was finished, she said: "Cool, now if you want to get paid go sue me."

Two grand's worth of work, down the toilet. Just enough money to hurt, not enough to justify legal proceedings - which, in the country in question, would have taken from two years to forever. Imagine the rage - I'm not sure if the woman was brave or stupid, pulling a stunt like this with a man who has got a number of hammers and other similar metallic implements in his toolbox, including a spade and a large garden next to a small patch of woodland.

But I've heard stories going the other way, builders conning a lot of cash off customers for inferior work. It can go downhill either way very quickly - one of the reasons I picked another kind of job when I was young and without worries.

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@Ignazio

I know a plumber in Essex who you wouldn't want to try this with.

Apart from being a really nice guy, he can single handedly remove a cast iron bath, getting it through doorways etc. with even putting it down.

He is also capable of some very good tricks. I still have his number for 'advice' when I get into bother :)

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A bag of quick setting cement down the bog would go some way to either encouraging her to pay up or at least make the plumber feel partially revenged.

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FAIL

I have several friends who USED to be licensed contractors... they lost their licenses because of false bad reviews and claims of work not completed, after which their insurance company revoked their coverage, and effectively revoked their license since they can't have a license without the insurance coverage.

In both cases, they completed about ninety percent of the work in a timely manner and in a professional manner, then the customer filed a complaint with their insurance carrier and the contractor's state license board... The insurance company brought in a different contractor to complete the work, the customer refused to complete payments to the contractors for the work actually done, and the insurance company cancelled the contractor's insurance... which meant the CSLB cancelled the contractor's license for failure to carry mandatory insurance. The customers got their work done at a much discounted price, the original contractor was out the money and expenses, and forced to close his business.

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jobs not paid for

I do not know about the UK but in the states we have courts just for these types of cases. Each state has a maximum (usually 5,000 US) and lawyers (unless one of the parties is one) aren't permitted just the two litigants. Very informal. and the parties get to do a show and tell about their positions and a judge decides it. Small filling fee and in case you win the other party has to pay. Works reasonably well.

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Re: jobs not paid for

It's the same in the UK, with a maximum of £5 000; the problem is when you are owed (say) £10 000, it falls between the maximum you get via small claims and what it is worth suing for in full formal proceedings.

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Personal recommendations

Only use tradesmen somebody you know has recommended: it's a common reaction to try and avoid bad service (though, like amazon, carries the risk of a review from somebody who doesn't know they just got shafted).

What is less well known is that tradesmen also have recs of the good and blacklists of shoddy customers.

You reap what you sow: that laywer would likely struggle to get anyone local to work on any part of their house ever again.

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Anonymous Coward

Apple App store has this problem

I write and sell apps on the App store. Not my only job. Basically you can assume that any app with really, really great reviews is, well cheating the system. (especially if there is a smattering of very negative reviews). There are companies that will hire people to write good reviews for your app - all legal and everything according to them. These reviews tend to be high in stars, but 'real' sounding - written by advert people.

Then there is the other side of it, when some user says something completely wrong about your app, and Apple provides no area for developers to respond.

I don't know if Yelp makes a place for the business to respond or not. Where the whole 'user review' thing is headed is anyone's guess.

I think that the contractor could have fixed his problem by just getting 20 mostly positive reviews written for him by some business image consulting firm.

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WTF?

...And this is yet another example...

...of why I won't ever move to live in the USA. Their litigation system is just so far out of control, it boggles the mind. The ONLY people who appear to make a profit from it are the lawyers. Ought to make you stop and think, shouldn't it?

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Stop

Re: ...And this is yet another example...

Technically true, although I feel that it's worth pointing out that no litigation system should ever have anyone EXCEPT lawyers profiting; the whole point of the system is for a plaintiff to be restored to the position they should have been in, NOT to allow them to profit.

Whether the lawyers are charging excessively, and whether the system is being used excessively, are different things entirely. If person A profits by suing person B, the system's fundamentally wrong.

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Did anyone follow the links?

If you dig far enough you'll find out that this seems to be the second time he is suing her. The first time seems to have been a collection action to be paid but they disagree on whether the work was performed/agreed upon but that seems to have been dismissed on technical grounds. Also they knew each other beforehand so it isn't like she picked him out of the phone book so that makes me think they didn't have a clear and well written contract for the price and work to be performed. In short it all strikes me as a perfect example of why all business transactions should be kept at arms length.

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Trollface

Can I sue too...

If someone says they don't want me to write a program for them?

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SW
Headmaster

A court has now granted a preliminary injection...

Of what?

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To remove the review from Yelp and prevent the reviewer from repeating the claims in other sites until after the case is heard.

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Coat

injection

To remove the review from Yelp and prevent the reviewer from repeating the claims in other sites until after the case is heard.

The previous poster was thinking of a solution, which that is not.

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Headmaster

Re: injection

The previous poster was pointing out that injection is not a legal term.

It probably should be injunction, but IANAL.

Hell, IANEANES, so what do I know.

(I Am Not Even A Native English Speaker)

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Re: injection

Yes, it's supposed to be injunction. That's the joke. :)

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Re: injection

No, it's a preliminary injection, just in case the plaintiff is successful and the death penalty is applied, they have already started the ball rolling for the lethal injection so saving valuable time later at the execution.....

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FAIL

Yeah this is really going to help his business... Streisand effect anyone?

When I look at reviews I don't just look at the good ones, or the bad ones, I look at the general overall tone of the entire grouping. I expect there to be a few bad ones, because of everything from personality conflicts to simply bad days, what I'm mostly interested in is the general tone of the reviews.

Let's look at amazon book reviews for an example, if there are a bunch of 1 star reviews or a bunch of 5 star reviews, with nothing in the middle, I know something hinky is going on.

A 1 star review or a 5 star review isn't going to give me much information really, but at 3 or 4 star review? That's where I find out what the real deal is.

As galling as letting a factually incorrect review stand, assuming it is factually incorrect, it's far better then throwing a hissy fit and suing is just going to make you look like a wanker who can't take criticism, and there is no way I'm hiring a company with a history of suing people over crap like that.

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This highlights a general problem with user reviews, people are pretty lazy... If they get ok, even good service they probably won't bother to go online and write about it. If something goes wrong though, they are motivated to mention it, whatever it is.

This unfortunately means you do legitimately get people mostly giving 5 star or 1 star reviews, with most of the people saying negative things.

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Facepalm

I think his estimate of how much business was lost from people reading this one review is ever-so-slightly over-stated.

By about a factor of 100.

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But the amount of business he will lose as a result of his lawsuit? Could be understated.

By about a factor of 100.

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Anonymous Coward

Dietz Development is Great!

I have to say that just to be sure that they never sue me.

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If true, people would be sent to jail almost every time someone was acquitted of a crime.

"Under Virginia law it is a crime to falsely accuse someone of committing a criminal offense."

If that was true, people would be sent to jail almost every time someone was acquitted of a crime. So obviously there must be more to it than that. I looked for further explanation on US-based websites.

I did find this in a Washington Post article instead:

"In Virginia, someone can be found liable for defamation if he states or implies a false factual statement about a person or business that causes harm to the subject’s reputation. Opinions are generally protected by the First Amendment."

(Washington Post would be a local paper for people in Virginia.)

A December 7 CNBC News report says a recent court filing (by Dietz I believe) claims Dietz and Perez were high school classmates.

Not to say that this particular review was or was not legitimate, or that this lawsuit was or was not intended to suppress legitimate bad reviews. But there is a move to fight back against the use of lawsuits to suppress bad bad reviews.

"Mark Goldowitz, founder of the Public Participation Project, which monitors such lawsuits, said he sees a troubling trend in review site defamation cases such as the one in Fairfax. He thinks they are a threat to vibrant new communities that have sprung up around Yelp and other sites.

“The suits can have a chilling effect on people’s willingness to share information,” Goldowitz said. “It does lead to people not posting reviews for fear of getting sued and to taking them down when threatened by a lawsuit.”

His group is pushing for a federal law that allows defendants to seek early dismissal of lawsuits that are aimed at silencing voices on public issues. Twenty-seven states, including Maryland, and the District have such “anti-SLAPP” laws, but not Virginia, according to Public Participation Project."

Full article here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/2012/12/04/1cdfa582-3978-11e2-a263-f0ebffed2f15_print.html

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Stick to opinion and “tell the truth, and you won’t get into trouble.”

Also this advise in the Washington Post article:

"Berlik, the lawyer, has a few words of advice for those who want to avoid similar lawsuits: Stick to opinion and “tell the truth, and you won’t get into trouble.”

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companies should encourage everyone to make reviews in order to balance bad reviews

Most adults know that some people are never happy with their service. But most adults also know that if more than 5% of the customers are unhappy there is something wrong with the company.

When I look at ratings, I'm concerned with the ratio of good to bad reviews and the number of reviews.

If there are just a few reviews, I assume only the dissatisfied did reviews, and then I try to guess how many customers there were in total and assume that most of those other customers would have given somewhere between 3 and 5 stars.

I think what companies should to counter bad reviews is to encourage everyone to make reviews. Put reviewing website URLs on little thank you cards they had out with their bills.

Amazon had the right idea when they would email everyone 2 weeks after a delivery from an Amazon affiliated store to get a rating. That is probably the only legitimate way to get 5 stars and a truly useful rating system.

CNBC says Yelp now uses employees (I expect "secret shoppers") to detect businesses that pay customers for good reviews. So you can ask for a review, but if you pay for a review you're asking for trouble.

"The growing trend has resulted in a crackdown in which Yelp employees stage "sting operations" to catch perpetrators. If caught, the Yelp page for the guilty company will host a red alert banner on the review page, informing consumers of the business' indiscretions."

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Re: companies should encourage everyone to make reviews in order to balance bad reviews

The ratio for posted online complaints is probably even higher than 5%. The complainers are more likely to post a review compared to the 95% of happy/satisfied/meh customers.

Businesses should have the right to respond, but judging the tone of that response would be a challenge for some small business owners....

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Stop

In my opinion, "Washington-based contractor" is damaging enough.

It makes me think of defense companies charging the Pentagon a shitload of money for substandard work - $35 million for showers that electrocute troops, $8000 for toilet seats, that sort of thing.

Perhaps Dietz should move to Baltimore, just in case.

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Way to kill your own business

Even if the allegations are completely false would you actually hire this guy to do your renovations? Not bloody likely. Did a shit job, you would be second guessing whether you should have a go at him or post a bad review

@ sooty 'This highlights a general problem with user reviews, people are pretty lazy... If they get ok, even good service they probably won't bother to go online and write about it.".

Not likely considering the content of Facebook and twitter, it seems we live in an age where people are only too happy to share every moment and action of their inane lives

Thumbs to the guy destroying his own business Darwin award of the business world

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