Be careful what you write: that online review could get you sued

-. Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press/File

TORONTO – You might want to re-evaluate your plan to write a negative review about a local business – if they don’t like it, you could get sued.

There is a bevy of websites asking for you to review every company from the local convenience store to WalMart.

But be careful what you write in the supposed anonymity of the internet, as it could land you in legal trouble.

Bill Genova, a Moore Park resident, recently hired a plumber to fix his frozen pipes. He called a local plumbing company and asked them to send someone over.

A “young man” came to his house and tried using a hair dryer to thaw his pipes – but that didn’t work. Genova said he called the plumber’s supervisor who apparently offered little help.

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The young man, according to Genova, put a hole in the wall to find the blockage of in the pipe.

“I said ‘listen, you’re going to tear open the walls of my house to find this?’ I said I’m going to end up with a mess,” Genova said.

Genova wasn’t happy with the service and sent the plumber on his way with a $400 cheque.

He started his computer and logged on to a review website – though he can’t remember which – to write a review of his unsatisfactory experience.

“I got a notification or basically, we don’t like your negative report. Take it down or else there will be consequences. Well I took this as just bluster,” he said. “Unfortunately I received a registered mail yesterday… or two days ago.”

“The registered mail said, if I didn’t take my comments down from the site, they would sue me for $25,000 and take me to the Ontario Supreme court.”

The lawsuit is disconcerting to Genova – he believes he is “entitled” to an opinion. But is he?  Yes but there are some limits.

“Generally speaking, we live in a free and democratic country and you can say what you want as long as you don’t damage someone else’ reputation,” Gil Zvulony, a Toronto defamation lawyer said.

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How do you write an online review and not get sued?

1. Don’t make things up

Zvulony suggests not telling fibs online but says if you do, as long as it’s not damaging, you likely won’t get sued.

2. And if it is damaging? Make sure it’s true and you can prove it.

“You’re allowed to say that,” Zvulony said.

“Now, when you’re talking about reviews, the onus is on you to prove what you said is true, which can be difficult at times.”

3. Be specific

Zvulony said good, non-litigation-inducing reviews should be specific about the problem.

4. Reach out and tell the company they’re not very good.

“Even if you do get one or two of the facts wrong, at least you are able to show a record if it does get to that, that you acted diligently,” Zvulony said.

But really – how often does a company sue over a bad review? More often than you may think. Zvulony said it’s “very common” but most lawsuits get settled before going to trial.

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“I see it nearly every day, but most of the cases are resolved out of court, early on. There might be some sort of compromise where the posting is removed or the posting is altered, edited,” he said.

Genova isn’t about to edit his review though.

“I wrote a review. What’s wrong? Is this untrue? Or is it not? It’s a he said, she said. I’m sorry. So the judge is going to judge something along the lines, you remember in Forest Hill when they had an argument between two neighbours? Turns out what the judge said was what you need is a good kindergarten teacher. Well perhaps we need the principal on this one.”

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