“I thought I had free speech.”
You do. But as the old saying goes, “you free speech ends where the other fella’s nose begins.”
Facebook, Yelp, Google and Amazon practically beg you to review products or services. Businesses are unable to delete these reviews. They can respond to a negative review, but often the damage to their reputation is already done. Since they can’t delete bad reviews, sometimes they sue.
Libel lawsuits are on the increase, primarily because of the Internet. Just google “are libel lawsuits on the increase?” It’s skyrocketing.
Defamation, Slander, and Libel
It helps to know the definition of these terms:
Defamation, according to Wikipedia, is “the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person.”
Slander is the spoken form of defamation. You “slander” someone when untrue and harmful words come out of your mouth.
Libel is the written form of defamation, and the Internet makes that easier than ever before.
With your smartphone at your fingertips, you may be just one comment away from a lawsuit.
“So, if what I say is true, I’m alright- right?”
Maybe. I’m no lawyer, so I can’t directly answer that. An attorney may tell you that “truth is a defense against libel.” But as an insurance agent, I can tell you that anyone can sue you for anything- and they do.
A “ruin your day” moment can happen without warning. It comes with a knock at the door and a not smiling sheriff’s deputy handing you an envelope while saying: “You’ve been served.”
It doesn’t matter if that restaurant deserved your unflattering review of their steak dinner. Now they’ve served you more than dinner, and you have to hire an attorney.
Who will pay for the attorney? Who will pay for the damages if you lose?
Four steps to safety:
1. Write the truth. When you write an online review, write only the verifiable truth. Imagine that your best friend disagrees, and says to you… prove it! Make sure you can.
2. Check your emotions. Before you hit post, take a breath, and imagine your best friend owned the business you are reviewing. You really want them to get better for next time, but would you soften the tone a little bit since it’s a friend? Then consider softening it for this business.
3. Review your review. Sometimes one word can make all the difference between a harmful review that can make a business pick up the phone and call their lawyer, and a helpful review that may sting, but make the owner say… ok… they have a point. Look over your review and find the difference.
4. Make sure you have proper insurance coverage. Don’t assume that you do. Homeowners policies vary, and often you need an umbrella policy to make sure you are adequately covered. If you are a business owner, defamation may not automatically be covered.
Check with an experienced local insurance agent about your specific policy coverage for defamation. It could save you from bankruptcy over the wrong word written.
Bruce Sackrison is an insurance property and casualty broker affiliated with Professional Insurance Associates helping clients with insurance needs for personal, commercial and business insurance. Bruce can be reached at 707-931-0186, firstname.lastname@example.org