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Business sues for $750,000 over bad Yelp review

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An American woman is being sued for three quarters of a million dollars for giving a local building contractor a scathing write-up on crowd-sourced reviews sites Yelp and Angie's List.

Jane Perez, a retired captain in the armed services living in Virginia, wrote the bad reviews about Washington DC building contractor Dietz Development after receiving what she felt was poor service from the company. She complained of shoddy work, jewelry going missing, trespass by staff members, and for being invoiced for services she hadn't received.

Some companies send out customer service representatives in such a case, but contractor Christopher Dietz took the other route and sued her for $750,000, saying the review had hurt his business and was factually incorrect.

"The impact has been awful," Dietz told the Washington Post. "There is no one to protect businesses when people slam their name."

He claimed the bad reviews had already cost him $300,000 in lost business and taken a considerable toll on him personally. He also disputes any claim of criminal behavior, such as theft or trespass, and says that Perez still owes him for the work carried out on her home, as well.

A court has now granted a preliminary injection removing Perez's comments and stopping her from making any more publicly, and will hear the full case later. Under Virginia law it is a crime to falsely accuse someone of committing a criminal offense.

Legal proceedings against people for online reviews aren't new, but are certainly growing fast, Mark Goldowitz, founder of the Public Participation Project, told the Washington Post. The legal status of such comments is muddled at best, and legislators are playing catch-up.

"The suits can have a chilling effect on people's willingness to share information," Goldowitz said. "It does lead to people not posting reviews for fear of getting sued and to taking them down when threatened by a lawsuit."

That said, Perez can count herself lucky that Dietz has taken the legal route to register a complaint. Last month, a customer who gave a Canadian restaurant's jambalaya a poor review was subjected to an online hate campaign. For his part, Dietz should be forewarned not to take that tack should his lawsuit fail: the restaurant owner was sentenced to jail.

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