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Lawyer sues student over bad reviews on Facebook and Yelp, student wins $27K

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A Texas nursing student who didn’t back down after posting bad reviews on Facebook and Yelp won in the end. Lan Cai’s car was hit by a drunk driver this past summer and she suffered broken bones in her back. She sought help from a law firm but was unsatisfied with the services she received. Cai’s relationship with the firm turned adversarial after she complained about it on social media, according to Ars Technica.

Cai said the service she received from the Tuan A. Khuu law firm was unsatisfactory. She also said that members of the firm entered her bedroom when she was asleep in her underwear. According to the firm, her mother invited them to enter the room. Cai posted about her experience including the bedroom incident on Facebook saying, “Serious, it’s super unprofessional!” She also posted on Yelp.

When Cai  complained on Facebook and Yelp about the law firm, it threatened her with a lawsuit if she didn’t take down her negative social media posts. According to the Houston Press, Tuan Khuu attorney Keith Nguyen emailed Cai, “If you do not remove the post from Facebook and any other social media sites, my office will have no choice but to file suit.”

When Cai didn’t remove the posts Nguyen’s firm sued, demanding between $100 and $200K. Cai then found attorney Michael Fleming, who represented her pro bono. Fleming argued that Cai’s social media posts were true, that she couldn’t do much to harm a firm with a poor reputation from previous reviews, and that the lawsuit was a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Texas law calls for SLAPP suits to be thrown out of court early on in litigation. The Texas judge agreed with Fleming and ordered the Tuan Khuu firm to pay nearly $27,000 in attorney’s fees.

In an email to Ars Technica, Fleming wrote, “We are very happy with the judge’s correct ruling in this case. Texas law specifically protects folks who are exercising their free speech rights and the statute was appropriately applied in this situation. People should be free to express their opinions without the threat of a lawsuit.”

The federal Consumer Review Fairness Act  recently passed through congress and is awaiting President Obama’s signature. That act voids any clause or statement in contracts, terms of service, or anywhere else that try to restrict reviews, online or elsewhere. The ruling in favor of Cai’s case points out that trying to limit or sue for negative postings on social media is already backfiring.

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