Negative Reviews Lead to Defamation Lawsuit, Begs Question, How Far Is Too Far?

By: Anthony Sabella Email
By: Anthony Sabella Email

It was supposed to be the final piece of Justin Hamel's dream home in Howell., but when Paulson's construction finished work on his bathroom in October, the dream quickly turned into a nightmare.

"I started to clean off the dust on the shower," said Hamel. "That's when I noticed a lot of the tiles had pits in them."

He also found uneven tiles, adhesive stains on his vanity and other evidence of sub-par work. Hamel filed suit in June, but before that, he flooded websites with negative reviews.

"I'm just sharing my experiences and opinions as a customer," he said.

He even created a site using company owner Paul McClorey's name in which he blasted Paulson's construction and claimed it butchers jobs. That led to a defamation counter-suit from Paulson's.

Hamel says he was just exercising his right to free speech. A Cooley Law Professor says maybe not.

"The First Amendment is not a license to engage in malicious character assassination," said Richard Henke.

Henke says it's a long-running online debate; how far is too far?

He doesn't see posting negative reviews on a website as defamation, but attacking someone personally might be.

"What kind of potential emotional distress has this caused? Has this led to a loss in revenue?," he said.

Those are the questions that decide cases like this one.

"We have this very strong interest of Freedom of Speech coming into contact with your reputation."

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