Providing they’re truthful, people have every right to leave bad reviews on sites such as Facebook and Yelp. But some companies will try anything to get these comments removed, even if it means suing the people who post them.
This is the situation that 20-year-old Lan Cai found herself in after she complained about the poor service she received from law firm Tuan A. Khuu. The Texas nursing student turned to the company following a car crash in the summer. Her vehicle had been hit by a drunk driver as she made her way home from a late night waitressing shift, resulting in two broken bones in her lower back, according to Ars Technica.
Cai said her experience with Tuan Khuu was very unsatisfactory, giving it a one-star Yelp review and, in a Facebook post, warning potential clients not to waste their time with the firm. Not only did Khuu regularly ignore her attempts to make contact, but lawyers from the company visited the family home and entered Cai’s bedroom while she was sleeping in her underwear, though they claim to have been invited in by the girl’s mother. “Serious, it’s super unprofessional,” she said on Yelp.
In response to the negative posts, Tuan Khuu lawyer Keith Nguyen sent Cai an email threatening to file suit unless they were removed. She didn’t comply, and the firm sued her for between $100,000 and $200,000, which the Housten Press reports was over 100 times more than what Cai had in her bank.
When asked if he felt bad about suing the student, who was working six days a week to pay her way through college, Nguyen said: “No, I don't feel bad at all. I feel sorry for her, because again, I gave her plenty of opportunities to retract and delete her post and she refused. She was proud: 'I've got it on Facebook. I've got it on Yelp,' with no remorse.”
Cai found attorney Michael Fleming, who was willing to represent her pro bono. He argued that the comments she left were true, and that the suit was a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Texas is one of many states that has a law allowing SLAPP suits to be thrown out of court early on in litigation. Additionally, Tuan Khuu had already received a number of negative reviews from other customers – it seems Cai wasn’t alone in expressing her displeasure.
In the end, the judge agreed with Fleming, and ordered Tuan Khuu to pay almost $27,000 in attorneys’ fees. "We are very happy with the judge’s correct ruling in this case," Fleming told Ars Technica in an e-mail. "Texas law specifically protects folks who are exercising their free speech rights and the statute was appropriately applied in this situation. People should be free to express their opinions without the threat of a lawsuit."
The ruling is good news for consumers; people shouldn’t be afraid of repercussions when leaving negative reviews for businesses that offer a poor service.