After a dispute with a local home contracting firm, Jane Perez of Fairfax VA posted reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List accusing the contractor of, among other things, damaging her home.
The contractor filed a $750,000 lawsuit against Perez alleging defamation. Although the suit hasn’t been settled, it serves as a valuable reminder: If you write a negative review about a business, don’t be surprised if you face a lawsuit – and make sure that your insurance protects you.
Such suits are becoming increasingly common, as people use sites such as Yelp to voice their gripes about everything from restaurants to dentists. Although many defamation lawsuits have merit, others – called “strategic lawsuits against public participations (SLAPPs) – are being filed primarily to silence consumer criticism. While some states have anti-SLAPP laws, they’re often weak, which encourages plaintiff to sue.
If you get SLAPPed, insurance might not come to the rescue. Liability coverage under the basic Homeowners policy does not pay legal costs for defending lawsuits for defamation of character, slander, and copyright violation claims. However, for a few dollars, you can purchase a Personal Injury Liability endorsement that covers these exposures. Some Umbrella Liability and high-end Homeowners policies include Personal Injury coverage.
But just because you have coverage, don’t start blogging, tweeting, and posting whatever you want. Intent matters; so if you knew what you were doing was wrong, your policy might not cover you. Although you have a legal right to share your personal experiences as a consumer, use common sense when writing reviews: Be accurate, avoid embellishment and generalizations, and describe only what you know from personal knowledge.
P.S. If you’d like to post a review of your experiences with our agency, please feel free.