Friday, January 2, 2015

Hotel Loses Suit over Bad TripAdvisor Review

This was a case in Multnomah County Circuit court, which is Portland, Oregon. The Ashley Inn sued for defamation, and the judge understandably threw the suit out.

The plaintiff sought to have the identity of the anonymous reviewer revealed, but the court held that Oregon's media shield law protected TripAdvisor, which was not required to hand over that information. The plaintiff's attorneys made the incredibly weak argument that the media shield law should not apply, because it was written in 1973, before internet review sites existed. Yes, and the U.S. Constitution was written in the 1780's, before telephones, radios, or cars existed. So what? The principles still apply even as technology evolves.

Even if the plaintiff could have gotten past the media shield problem, there would still have been the problem that the review was more of a statement of opinion then a statement of fact, containing as it did allegations that the "rooms are nasty". You cannot sue successfully for expressions of opinion, unless you can prove they were motivated by malice.

Further, the plaintiff would have had to prove that it suffered actual damages as a result of the bad review. This seems really unlikely. The review was so over-the-top, with silly statements like the hotel clerk was engaging in phone sex, that it is hard to imagine that anybody would have taken it seriously.

 Then there would also have been the problem that the reviewer, like most of us, was probably "judgment-proof", meaning no actual money could be collected.

In light of all of these problems, it is hard to fathom why Ashley Inn even bothered to pursue a lawsuit. I would love to know the content of the conversation between the hotel's CEO and the hotel's lead counsel, leading up to the decision to proceed with a lawsuit. Did the CEO insist on proceeding with legal action, despite the miniscule chances of success? Or did some unscrupulous or incompetent lawyer advocate proceeding?

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