By Tracy M. Evans, Esq., Associate, Saxon Gilmore & Carraway, P.A.
Online consumer reviews have become an integral part of the modern consumer’s decision process. Not only do these reviews help consumers with recommendations on where to eat, shop, or visit, these reviews help promote good business practices and encourage businesses to focus on providing the best customer experience attainable.
Several businesses utilizing these clauses actually began pursuing consumers who left negative reviews about their experiences. Cases that made the news ranged from a pet-sitter in Texas seeking $1 million in damages against a client who left a negative review stating the sitter had over-fed the client’s fish, to a wedding venue in New York attempting to fine couples $500 for every guest who left a negative review.
The Act is limited in some ways. It only applies to form contracts, and not to contracts with terms that have been meaningfully negotiated. The Act also leaves a business’s right to sue for defamation, slander, or libel fully intact. Further, the Act does not prohibit a business from removing reviews from its own website that are defamatory, obscene, explicit, harassing, false, misleading or unrelated to the goods or services offered or provided.
The Act is scheduled to take effect on March 14, 2017, and will apply to any non-disparagement clause in effect on or after that date. Despite its limitations, the Act represents a significant step towards protecting consumer reviews and allowing the public unfiltered access to useful and accurate information to assist in consumer decisions.
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