Can you be sued for giving a bad review?

By Eryka Washington , Consumer Reporter, Fill-in anchor, ewashington@wkmg.com
Published On: May 21 2014 11:15:00 PM EDT
Updated On: May 22 2014 06:46:21 AM EDT

Some wedding vendors, medical professionals, contractors and even online merchants are adding "non-disparagement" or "non-review" clauses to contracts or terms and conditions, preventing customers from publicly criticizing their work.

ORLANDO, Fla. -

Do you rely on online reviews for choosing service providers?  If so, you may not be getting the full picture.

Now, some wedding vendors, medical professionals, contractors and even online merchants are adding “non-disparagement” or “non-review” clauses to contracts or terms and conditions, preventing customers from publicly criticizing their work.

Experts acknowledge a company’s online reputation can make or break a business, but some say this new consumer contract trend is alarming.

Lilana Vidal said she recalls telling her son's orthodontist exactly how she felt.

"I spoke to the supervisor told her I wasn't happy and wanted him released," she said.

Vidal wanted to share here experience with others so she posted an online review.

Vidal says, "I decided to write a review just because I was very upset with my experience."

The review Lilly posted prompted 3 phones calls from the doctor's office. One call came from the orthodontist himself. Vidal recalls the conversation.

"He said I could have gone to him and spoken to him personally. He kept going and going and going, he was just so upset that I had written a bad review," she said.

Karina also went online to warn others about a photographer she initially hired for her wedding. Problem is, soon after, she wrote the review she got an email from the photographer saying, "We kindly ask that you remove your posting." noting she could face "legal action" for "breach of contract."

Karina says she never realized her agreement said: "neither party will disparage the other."

Karina says, "I was livid. I was so upset that: A) I couldn't review a vendor, B) That you would email me, almost threateningly, so I felt- like I think I felt bullied."

The clauses are becoming common and can be hard to spot, so you need to be on the lookout for words like "confidentiality", "non-review" and especially the word non-disparagement.

The clauses are popular--- because, let's face it, nowadays a company's online reputation can make or break their business. This offers them a way to protect themselves from unreasonable customers.

Attorney Noah Davis says the law is still evolving when it comes to these clauses.

"It's hard to really put, put a finger on how the courts are going to rule on these sorts of things," Davis said. "Don't sign those agreements if they don't allow you to take those clauses out of the contract."

The good news for Vidal, she didn't sign a contract so her review is still posted.

Karina removed her online review to avoid legal headaches, but worries this trend will mean others won't get the full "picture" when it comes to deciding who to hire.

"No matter what whether your happy or upset with the services, you should be entitled to leave a review," Vidal said.

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