Posted: Dec 6, 2012 4:21 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News
Updated: Dec 6, 2012 10:15 PM
A Virginia woman is being sued for $750,000 after she posted a negative review about a contractors work on Yelp.
The woman says she hired the contractor to perform renovations on her home. Dissatisfied with the work, she took to the internet to let her feelings be known.
The review accused him of billing her for work he hadn't completed and shoddy workmanship.
She also noted that some of her jewelry had gone missing while he was working in her home and warned readers to avoid hiring him.
Well that last part has gotten her in some hot water.
The question is what is free speech and did she cross the line?
Legal experts say that people are within their legal rights to post their opinions of a business or a contractor's performance, but cannot make unsupported allegations.
In a day and age where opinions can be found scattered all over the internet, where does the freedom of speech line begin and end?
"You can say what you want but it's not absolute," says Dr. Allen Settle, a political science professor at Cal Poly.
He says if you make untrue statements that damage a person reputation there can be consequences even when it's an online review.
"Once you make a personal statement about a person's reputation, that in fact can be a cause of action against that person, and you have the burden to show that," says Settle. "The first amendment is not absolute, and once you defame a person, that freedom can be removed and you could suffer some litigation consequences."
So if you can't prove what you say, settle says you can be on the losing end of a law suit.
In the case of the Virginia woman, those consequences could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The bottom line is, while speech is protected under the constitution, its not unlimited.
If you make false or unproven statements that impact someone's reputation or livelihood, it could end up costing you.
As for the Virginia case, a judge ruled in favor of the contractor and yelp removed the unsupported accusations that he stole jewelry from her review.
They are now examining whether the contractor is eligible for compensation for lost business due to her review.
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