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After approximately three years of litigation, a jury in Gwinnett County, Georgia recently found that a homebuilder had been defamed by an individual’s online review of the homebuilder and awarded the plaintiffs $120,000 in damages and $12,000 in legal fees.
As we all know, it can be difficult to determine the identity of individuals posting “anonymous” reviews on the Internet. After Kudzu.com rejected a request to remove the bad review of the homebuilder Georgian Fine Properties, LLC, one of the owners of the business, Richard S. Jacobs, made it his business to figure out who had written the negative review of his company. Mr. Jacobs figured out the identity of the author of the inflammatory review, which made it possible to bring the lawsuit against that person. As it turned out, the defendant author had never purchased a home from Georgian Fine Properties, LLC and had never been a customer or client of the business.
The Gwinnett County jury was not persuaded by the argument that the review was the personal opinion of the defendant and thus was constitutionally protected speech. Nonetheless, the homebuilder did not succeed at recovering the $1,000,000 dollars in damages allegedly having resulted from a drop in sales despite an upswing in the housing market following the publication of the defendant’s critical review. Instead, the jury reduced the damages and legal fees award by close to a factor of ten.
Even if defendant appeals the jury verdict, businesses may have recourse against “anonymous” online individuals who write unflattering reviews. The Construction Law practice group attorneys are here to assist you. Please contact Ze’eva R. Kushner at [email protected] for more information.