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Boston, Massachusetts 02108-3002

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Negative Internet Reviews: Respond or Not?

Monday, May 06, 2019

By Robert R. Pierce

Over the last five years, the firm has received many calls from business owners who have received negative reviews from customers, or in some cases, non-customers. “What should I do?” They ask.

More often than not, my answer is to do nothing. When a customer gives a one-star review about the service rendered, it is simply a matter of opinion and there is no legal recourse. Some business owners, particular restauranteurs, respond with harsh rebuttals, sometimes doing what is essentially a negative review of the customer. While PR and marketing is not the firm’s bailiwick, I find it unlikely that a negative rebuttal would help the business. An approach I do like, however, is when a business owner sincerely apologizes for the customer’s negative experience, and offers to the customer an opportunity to make things right.

But, what if the negative review is factually false, or, the reviewer was not even a customer? Then, a lawyer may have a role.

Making false statements that cause harm can be actionable as slander (spoken statements) or libel (written statements). Recently, the firm was contacted by a dental practice which received a negative review from a person who had never been to the practice. The motivation was unclear. This one star review certainly dragged down the rating of the practice, which had about 15 reviews. The firm sent a letter to the customer demanding that the review be removed, and it was. But, once again, getting a lawyer involved should be the exception rather than the rule. Could you file suit against a bad reviewer? Only in the most extreme case. Recently, a lawyer on Cape Cod received a horribly negative review on Facebook with numerous false allegations including that he bribed court officials and other attorneys in a number of cases. The lawyer and his firm sued the complainant in 2015, and the case went to trial in February 2019. The jury eventually awarded the aggrieved lawyer $100,000.00 in damages. Even then, this further emphasizes the need to file suit only in the most extreme cases, as the review and its effect lasted roughly four years until resolution.

What I hope business owners take away from this piece are as follows:

  1. Provide superb, friendly service, and you will receive great reviews.
  2. If you get to know a customer on a personal level, feel free to ask them to post a review.
  3. Don’t attack the reviewer. It only makes you look petty and often brings on more negative reviews.
  4. If the review contains demonstrably false allegations, then consider legal action.

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