by Fred Lambert
In the wake of a WFTV Channel 9 report about a Sanford man who was threatened with a lawsuit by a local car dealership for writing a bad online review, there’s only one thing for many to say: “What the fuck is going on?”
Steven Dinsmore took his car to Evolution Auto for an appraisal and felt he got low-balled, Channel 9 reports. He received an appraisal of $1,500 more from CarMax and went online to report his experience with Evolution. Besides what he considered a crappy appraisal, Dinsmore also complained of slow service and says that he was pressured to buy a car.It wasn’t long before Dinsmore was sent a notice from Evolution, which basically called him a liar and demanded he remove the review or face a lawsuit.
This kind of thing has become more and more common. Last November ABC News reported that KlearGear.com fined a Utah couple $3,500 because they wrote a critical online review after a $20 desk ornament was never delivered. KlearGear.com justified this gouging with a “non-disparagement” clause in the fine print of its website. It was later determined by the couple’s attorney that the clause was added after the order was placed.
The previous February, an Arizona woman was sued by an auto-repair company for writing what they called “false statements” in a Yelp review, according to Arizona's CBS Channel 5.
You may ask yourself how some companies might have the legal power to exercise such immense dick-ishness. The answer lies in the term “defamation.”Defamation, according to Cornell University Law School, is “any statement, whether written or oral, that injures a third party's reputation.” Specifically, written defamation is known as “libel,” which, in order to qualify under that definition must be “injurious to a person's reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession.” But then why would any negative review or consumer report ever be allowed? The answer to that is the “fair comment” defense, which basically invokes the First Amendment and is defined by Cornell University as “A statement of opinion (no matter how ludicrous) based on facts which are correctly stated, and which does not allege dishonorable motives on the part of the target of the comment.” So basically, hyperbole is completely fine as long as the comments made are essentially true. In libel torts, the burden of proof lies with the injured party, so should Evolution take Dinsmore to court, it'll have to prove that Dinsmore was dishonest in his assessment of the dealership. In a letter from Evolution Auto's attorney regarding the matter, the company believed that Dinsmore's motivation to receive an appraisal for his vehicle was not to receive a fair appraisal, but to get an appraisal so he could take it to a different dealership where he wanted to trade the car in – basically, he wanted to try to get the best deal he could from whomever could provide it. While there's nothing inherently wrong with that, Evolution Auto's attorney says that when Evolution's mechanic chose to "not conduct a thorough vehicle inspection since such would serve no purpose," Dinsmore asked for a higher appraisal. When Evolution declined, the letter says, Dinsmore decided to write a bad review. Evolution Auto's attorney letter can be read in full at WFTV's website. Watch the WFTV report on the situation below.