Byline: Luke Patel
The recent case of Summerfield Browne Limited -v- Waymouth is a cautionary tale for customers who post negative reviews about goods or services which they have received. In that case, Mr Waymouth instructed Summerfield Browne, a firm of solicitors, to enforce a Court Order that he had obtained. He was not happy with Summerfield Browne’s service but rather than follow the firm’s complaints procedure, he posted a review on Trust Pilot describing Summerfield Browne as “a total waste of money” and “another scam solicitor”.
Despite requests by Summerfield Browne, Mr Waymouth refused to remove the posting and so Summerfield Browne issued proceedings against him for defamation, claiming that serious harm had been caused to the firm’s reputation as a consequence of the review. Summerfield Browne claimed that following Mr Waymouth’s defamatory review the number of enquiries which they received per week had fallen from 50 – 60 to 30 – 40.
Mr Waymouth argued that his comments were honest opinion and in the public interest. However, the Judge held that the law treated allegations of fraud as being allegations of fact which could not be converted to an opinion by saying it was someone’s belief. Further, as Mr Waymouth had made no attempt to engage in Summerfield Browne’s complaints procedure and had made no enquiries, his comments were therefore not in the public interest.
The Judge found that there was no doubt that Mr Waymouth’s comments had a tendency to put people off dealing with Summerfield Browne. It was a serious matter to accuse a firm of solicitors of dishonesty and the allegation was financially damaging to the firm. The Judge therefore awarded Summerfield Browne the sum of £25,000 for the damage that had been caused to their reputation and he granted an injunction for the removal of the post and restraining Mr Waymouth from publishing it elsewhere. The Judge also made an Order for Trust Pilot to remove the post on the basis that Mr Waymouth was unlikely to comply himself.
Since the judgment was given in this case, it has been reported that Trust Pilot has said that it will be challenging the Order by the Court for it to remove the review claiming that it was a restriction on the freedom of speech. It will be interesting to see how this case develops.
In the meantime, this case is a stark reminder that, whilst a customer is entitled to submit online reviews, whether negative or positive, any allegations of dishonesty or of fraudulent conduct is likely to overstep the mark if there is no evidence to support such a serious claim.
If you require assistance in pursuing or defending a defamation claim, then Blacks Solicitors can assist. Please contact Luke Patel on 0113 227 9316 or by email at “LPatel@LawBlacks.com”.