can a company sue for a bad review

Most customers read online reviews when choosing a service business. So it’s totally normal to want to do everything in your power to deal with a negative online review before it damages your reputation or costs you clients.

But what do you do when a review isn’t true? Can you actually sue the person? Would you even want to?

Can a company sue for a bad review? 

Technically yes, a company can––but only if it qualifies as defamation. There are two types of defamation: libel and slander.

Defamation Libel Slander
A false or harmful written or oral statement made public. An untrue or harmful written statement made public. An untrue or harmful verbal statement made public.

What is defamation?

Defamation is the act of publicly communicating a false, harmful statement about a person or a business, either in writing or verbally.

What is libel?

Libel is when someone writes, prints, or publishes an untrue and harmful statement about someone else. For example, if a client writes a newspaper article saying you stole from them when you didn’t.

What is slander?

Slander is when someone verbally makes an untrue and harmful verbal statement about you. For example, someone does a TV interview about your business and says you damaged their property when you didn’t.

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What do I need to sue over a bad review?

To sue a client over a negative or untrue online review, you need to prove that the statement is defamatory.

There are four elements to prove defamation:

  1. The review must be made available to someone other than the person or business it’s about. In other words, it must be published by a third party where others can access it.
  2. It must identify a specific person or business. For example, it must refer to you or your business name. It can’t be a general review you simply suspect is about you.
  3. You need to prove the review harmed you or your business in some way. For example, show how the review either damaged your reputation or affected your livelihood by taking business from you.
  4. The person who wrote the review must be at fault. That means that they have to know that their statement was false when they made it. A simple misunderstanding or mistake generally won’t count.

If you’re seriously considering taking someone to court, make sure the review includes all four elements to have the strongest case.

You should also pull copies of anything that may help you. For example:

  • Copies of all email, text, and written client conversations 
  • Copies of any contracts, agreements, quotes, invoices, and payments
  • Details about the review, including a copy, the web address, the social media site or review platform it was posted on, any responses or comments on it, information about the author, and the date and time
  • Details on relevant activities, like fleet tracking, employee timesheets, etc. to prove details about the case the author is referring to

READ MORE: Never miss a detail again with work completion forms

Are reviewers protected?

In the U.S., reviewers are protected under the First Amendment and Anti-SLAPP laws. 

The First Amendment protects free speech. Anti-SLAPP statutes prevent companies from censoring reviewers and critics through intimidation. E.g., threatening to sue a client for leaving a review, or other strategic lawsuits against public participation.

This means customers are free to leave a negative or good review about their experiences with a business. 

Freedom, however, doesn’t mean people can say what they want without consequences or that they’re protected from being sued. 

As you saw, companies can sue reviewers if the review meets the criteria of defamation.

Can you be sued if you write the review?

Yes. You’re free to post a review, but you can be sued if the review is defamatory.

Can you sue review sites directly?

No. Review sites like Google Reviews, Yelp, and Angie’s List are protected under the U.S. Communications Decency Act. They cannot be held liable for content posted by reviewers.

What should you do if you get bad reviews?

The reality is that suing someone to get a review removed from the internet or to get compensation for lost business can take a massive amount of time, energy, and money (think sky-high legal fees). 

Legal action may be worthwhile if the false comment is exceptionally damaging to your reputation, making it difficult for you to get more business.

However, for the most part, you can tackle bad reviews in a few practical ways without hiring an attorney:

1. Respond to negative reviews

Your first action should be to respond to the negative comment. With the right response, you can get the review updated or removed altogether.

Start a polite conversation with the customer to help you understand the root of the problem. Maybe it’s a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. Perhaps it can be fixed by offering a refund or an apology.

Consider using a review response template you can customize for every bad review. Grab yours here: How to respond to negative reviews with examples.

Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when responding:

  • Respond quickly
  • Personalize your response
  • Apologize and empathize
  • Own the problem and reinforce that you hold yourself to the highest standards
  • Attempt to make things right by taking things offline
  • Ask the customer to update the review

2. Contact the review site to have the review removed.

If you can’t get in touch with the reviewer or they refuse to work with you, you can escalate the issue to the platform on which the review was published. 

You’ll usually take this route if the comment is fake, factually inaccurate, or violates the review site’s policies.

Each platform (like Google reviews, Facebook, and Yelp) has different policies surrounding reviews. 

Learn how to remove reviews on Facebook and delete reviews on Google.

3. Invest in software and systems to manage bad reviews

Business software can give you a leg up when it comes to dealing with negative reviews and preventing them in the first place.

Having software and systems in place helps you:

a. Keep track of client and job information

Keeping track of all your job and service details in a CRM, like Jobber, can help you stay organized. You’ll have access to contracts, invoices, quotes, receipts, employee timesheets, and crew locations for those times when customers ask questions, something goes wrong, or a client claims you failed to do something.

Have customer info right when you need it

If a customer calls with any questions about their service, you’ll be ready with answers. Their complete customer history is organized and accessible instantly from anywhere.

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b. Ask customers for feedback 

Next, you can use software to automate job-follow ups. This gives you the chance to ask customers if they’re satisfied with your work and resolve any possible issues before they get the chance to leave a nasty review.

For example, Van Wu, owner of Trust Home Comfort Ltd., uses Jobber’s client follow-up features after every job.

“After I do an install or repair, I follow-up with an email and answer the customer’s concerns. Normally, I get review feedback through Jobber’s email follow-up tool. I can ask my clients for a rating between 1-10, and they can add comments. Plus, follow-ups after a quote or a service help me look professional.”

READ MORE: 3 feedback surveys that will make you look more professional

c. Improve client communications before and during the job 

Of course, you don’t have to wait until the job is over.

Good communication early on is one of the best ways to avoid unhappy clients and bad reviews. 

  1. Before you start, offer professional itemized quotes so clients know what to expect
  2. Before you arrive at the job site, send on-my-way texts and emails to build trust

During the job, give clients access to a customer portal where they can review appointment details, see who’s coming to their home, and contact you directly.

Keep customers informed while you focus on the work

Send automated job updates and bring text messaging right into your CRM.

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What should you not do if you get negative reviews?

Here are a few things you definitely don’t want to do if you receive negative reviews:

1. Don’t respond immediately

We know this runs contrary to what we said about the importance of responding quickly, so let’s explain. 

When we say “respond quickly,” we really mean you should respond within 24 to 48 hours. You don’t want to react immediately in the heat of the moment right after you’ve read a comment. This often leads to a poor, emotionally charged response that makes things worse. 

Instead, take time to process the information, and don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or friend to help you write your response. They are detached from the situation so will be able to deliver a more balanced reply.

2. Don’t ignore the review

Responding to a negative review is an opportunity to turn a disgruntled customer into a loyal one, get them to change their bad review into a positive one, and show you care—all of which drives more business.

The bottom line on suing over bad reviews

You can most definitely sue over a bad review as long as it qualifies as defamation. 

But because suing can be both costly and time-consuming, decide if it’s worthwhile for you and your business. 

It may well be if the false review has severely damaged your reputation and ability to make a living.

But for the most part, suing should be a last resort. Instead, handle negative reviews by responding promptly and politely, reaching out to review sites, and using software and systems to reduce bad reviews and help you generate more positive ones.

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