The tide may yet turn for dental practices that battle with defamatory reviews on Yelp thanks to a carpet cleaning business and appeals court in Virginia. In 2012, a local court found in favor of Hadeed Carpet Services, ordering Yelp held in civil contempt for failing to comply with the carpet cleaner’s subpoena. Hadeed contends that reviews were generated by competitors trying to bring down his business. He filed suit against the anonymous reviewers, and sought to compel Yelp to reveal their real names – Yelp refused. A Virginia appeals court just upheld that ruling. The rights of the individual dental practice against slanderous reviews may now be better protected, which could significantly undermine the site’s power. While the appeals court noted that dissatisfied customers have a constitutional right to speak anonymously over the Internet, that right must be balanced against one’s right to protect its reputation.
This ruling could open the door to thousands of lawsuits, starting within Virginia. Yelp stated “We feel this ruling fails to protect the free speech rights of Internet users, and in particular the rights of consumers who are turning to sites like Yelp to share their experience with a local business,” The site is appealing to the Virginia Supreme Court. The final outcome could effect how patients anonymously leave testimonials online.
Has Yelp been more of a benefit or trouble for your practice? We would love to know. Please share your thoughts and comments on our Facebook or comment below.