The Internet has done a lot of wonderful things for us, including facilitating communication beyond what most people would have ever thought possible. This has proven to be both good and bad as people have the opportunity, not only to communicate with each other, but with the entire world regarding everything from national news to what they ate for breakfast.
When people talk about an organization or person online, it can frequently cause problems for the organization or individuals being talked about. It’s well known that the people who write online reviews are rarely the people who had a mediocre experience. It tends to be those who had an excellent or a terrible experience and that can result in a skewed online presentation of the organization or person.
When those online portrayals are negative (as they so often are), they have the potential to lead to serious negative consequences for those being talked about. When that happens, the question often arises of whether the online comments qualify for a defamation lawsuit.
One example of this is co-op and condominium boards in New York City that have faced excessively volatile comments online from their residents. In at least two cases, residents have launched websites to air their grievances against the board. These sites are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
Because the Internet makes it so easy for everyone to review everything from their local yoga studio to their favorite café, the Internet has also become the go-to place for people to check out reviews before they decide to make a purchase. If the first thing a potential buyer sees are negative reviews, they’re more likely to go somewhere else, and this is as true of condo buildings as it is of new restaurants.
Home buyers looking to make an offer on a condo might reconsider if an Internet search of the building turns up complaints about how the building is managed. No one wants to deal with drafty windows that never get patched up or a basement that’s always flooding.
If the reviews can be perceived as harmful enough, the residents who post complaints may find themselves facing a defamation lawsuit like the one filed against nine residents of Trump Village Section 4. The residents of that building launched a publicly accessible website called TV4News.org in which residents have allegedly complained about corruption, communism, and discrimination, among other things, all of which the board insists are unfounded.
The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by the building and its president of the building’s board at the time. The defendants filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming that the President and the other members of the board are public figures, and criticism of them therefore falls under free speech protections immune from libel unless there is knowing disregard of the truth.
Public figures, such as entertainers and politicians, can file lawsuits for defamation, but they have a higher burden to prove the comments were both false and made with malicious intent. This is because the law assumes discussion of public figures is for the public good and should be encouraged. Private citizens have a lower burden of proof when showing evidence that the comments were harmful.
The judge rejected the defendants’ argument that the board members were public figures and has allowed the dispute to proceed. It will now be up to the courts to determine whether a group of disgruntled residents could be punished under the law for comments made online.
Our Chicago libel and slander lawyers 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 attorneys 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 Naperville, Burr Ridge, and Hinsdale, 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 Lake Forest and Highland Park defamation and slander lawyers 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 Aurora and Naperville, 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 630-333-0333 or online by filling out our contact us form.