Consumers have long relied on recommendations from friends and family before buying products and services, and businesses have risen and fallen like empires on this tradition of word of mouth. Then, the Internet brought about the ability to broadcast your opinion of a business to practically everyone in the world, and to see reviews by people you’ve never met. The potential benefits to businesses of this have to be weighed against the potential detriment when people post negative reviews. Generally, people are only motivated to leave a review if they had a very positive or very negative experience, leaving a skewed perspective of the business on the world wide web.
Some businesses have tried to fight back by including language in their terms of agreement which punishes customers for posting negative reviews online. While the legality of such a measure is in question, consumers all over the Internet have made their displeasure known.
Recently, the Union Street Guest House (USGH), a New York hotel, took it a step further by allegedly including a clause which punishes customers if another customer posts a negative review of the hotel anywhere on the internet. According to the hotel’s policy, “If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. … If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any Internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.” The policy further noted that the $500 charge would be removed once a negative review was taken down, and that the policy only applied to wedding parties and events.
The result was a flood of negative comments on Yelp and USGH’s Facebook page. One commenter on Yelp described it as, “a poor business practice. Why would anyone want to book a wedding or night stay here?”
The hotel responded by removing the language from its policy within 24 hours and posting on its Facebook page that, “The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.”
The Internet remains skeptical, though, and consumers have clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to take the hotel at its word. One clever follower of the Facebook page commented, “Don’t worry, I’m sure the reviews being posted on Yelp are equally tongue-in-cheek and will be taken down in no time.”
Despite the rapid removal of the policy from USGH’s website, we have known other businesses to remove similar policies in response to a barrage of angry consumers, only to reinstate the clause later on, after tempers have cooled and the Internet’s attention has been distracted. We are glad that USGH has taken this clause down and hope they stand by their position that they will not reinstate the policy. The decision to end the policy was a good decision.
Our Chicago libel attorneys concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law, where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock.
Our Chicago defamation lawyers defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Schaumburg, and Palatine, who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.
Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorney Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over a quarter of a century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights, and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.
Lubin Austermuehle’s Wheaton and Western Springs defamation and libel attorneys have more than two and half decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Clarendon Hills, Hinsdale and Lake Forest, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.
If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business online at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at (833) 306-4933 or online by filling out our contact us form.