Jury Verdict of Liability but No Damages in Yelp Defamation Case
Websites such as www.yelp.com and www.angieslist.com have been a breeding ground for novel legal issues. The sites are created for the very purpose of voicing concerns or praising services and encourage first amendment rights to free speech. However, one false post can cause a business an infinite amount of reputational harm and potentially ruin them. Legal scholars have been following case law on the topic closely to see how the courts deal with the legal implications of posting complaints online.
A recent case in Fairfax County Circuit Court, which was closely followed by media sources including the Washington Post, presented an interesting situation. The dispute arose when a Fairfax homeowner, disappointed in the work of her contractor, logged onto www.yelp.com and listed her disappointments with her contractor, ending with “Bottom line do not put yourself through this nightmare of a contractor.” The online comments from homeowner continued on multiple sites and the contractor, in response, posted his own comments online about the homeowner.
The situation worsened and the contractor filed suit in October 2012 based on the comment above and similar comments, claiming that the homeowner defamed him and his company and that the comments created a loss of work opportunities and significant harm to the business’s reputation, among other damages. The homeowner eventually levied her own defamation claim against the contractor and the case went before a jury last week.
The jury ultimately found that both parties had defamed each other but failed to award either party any damages. There was plenty of evidence presented over five days for the jury to consider damages but its response may be telling for parties who wish to pursue similar actions. Not only are there significant legal hurdles associated with challenging statements in online forums, but a court or jury may very likely be unsympathetic to the claims.
 Dietz Development, LLC, et al. v. Jane Perez, Case No. 2012-16249, Fairfax County Circuit Court.
 Complaint, Dietz Development, LLC, et al. v. Jane Perez, Case No. 2012-16249, Fairfax County Circuit Court (filed October 31, 2012).
 Justin Jouvenal. “Virginia woman is sued over her Yelp review.” The Washington Post. December 4, 2012, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/2012/12/04/1cdfa582-3978-11e2-a263-f0ebffed2f15_story.html; Justin Jouvenal. “In defamation lawsuit over Yelp reviews, neither side wins damages. The Washington Post. February 1, 2014, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/in-closely-watched-yelp-case-jury-finds-dual-victory/2014/01/31/2d174580-8ae5-11e3-a5bd-844629433ba3_story.html (hereinafter “Washington Post”).
 See Complaint.
 Washington Post.
 Washington Post.