Club Insider

Defamatory Social Media Reviews

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Paul R. Bedard, EsquirePaul R. Bedard, Esquire

It takes time and effort for any business to establish and maintain a positive reputation. Whether a health club is creating raving fans or blatantly mistreating their customers, social media review sites allow users to quickly spread the word. Although much of what can be found on these sites tends to genuinely inform consumers and validate those health clubs that provide outstanding products and services, reviewers can easily post distorted or even blatantly false reviews resulting in damaging and unwarranted reputational harm. When an intentionally false and damaging social media review is posted, this may give rise to a defamation claim.

This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. Widely varying laws specific to each jurisdiction prohibit one - size - fits - all recommendations. Please consider these comments as an educational guide to assist you when you consult your own attorney for specific direction.

A New Hampshire health club owner recently sued a former member for posting a negative Yelp review that the club owner contends is false and defamatory. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, the owner of the Gateway Hills Health Club is seeking damages from Michael Abdinoor, a former member, for intentionally posting "false, defamatory and slanderous statements" on Yelp.

The Union Leader reports that Mr. Abdinoor purchased a membership at the Gateway Hills Health Club for a monthly fee of $29.99 to be billed to his credit card each month. A few months into the membership, Mr. Abdinoor's membership fee went unpaid. Mr. Abdinoor alleges that he attempted to resolve the matter at that time only to be instructed by the health club that he owed $560 for 14 months of membership dues. When Mr. Abdinoor disputed this $560 total, the club allegedly requested payment of $360 for four months of dues. After failing to reach an agreement with the health club, the former member was ultimately charged $150, and his membership was then cancelled by the health club.

Mr. Abdinoor posted a scathing Yelp review following his experience. According to the Union Leader, the former member wrote that the health club was "incompetent and disingenuous" and that the credit card that was charged by the club was being cancelled because the health club was "untrustworthy." The owner of the club responded by filing suit, asserting that Mr. Abdinoor acted in bad faith by intentionally posting, "false, defamatory and slanderous statements." Gateway Hills seeks the removal of the Yelp review and $750,000 in damages plus costs and legal fees. A judge recently suggested that the parties should attempt to resolve the case through mediation. Both sides have agreed to do so.

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