When Allison Doren was referred to an NHS dentist for tooth implants worth £10,000, little did she expect to be facing damages of more than £125,000, according to an article in the Daily Mail.
Upset at her treatment, Ms Doren decided to post a review about the dental practice in question on ‘Yelp’ – the popular review site, which allows customers to share thoughts and experiences about local businesses. She gave the practice just one star and made the comment: ‘Terrible Service – Avoid at all costs’.
“Initially I saw a lovely dentist there,” said Ms Doren, “but I endured a three week wait before they could begin treatment, received treatment plans with the wrong prices and then, when I got toothache on the other side of my jaw, they said they did not do general dentistry.”
Yelp subsequently emailed Ms Doren, explaining that they had received a complaint from the dental practice about her bad review. The dentist was claiming her comment was defamatory, saying: ‘The review has had, and continues to have, a significant financial impact on our business. We cannot allow that damage to our business to continue.”
The dentist proceeded to sue Ms Doren for £125,000 in damages plus legal costs. Ms Doren, in fear of being sued, removed the review, mentioning online that she did so due to the threats. “When I discovered they planned to sue me for £125,000 I felt sick. It has put me off ever posting a review on a website again,” said Ms Doren. “When I left that review I did so honestly. But this has turned into an utter nightmare. There is no way I could pay these damages and the worry of it all has been so huge I am barely sleeping,” she continued.
Thereafter, Ms Doren received one more removal request, and she says of the practice, “in return they offered to refund £185 of the initial £384 fee I paid as long as I agree [sic] never to mention B Dental again. But I felt bullied and couldn’t agree never to speak about them again.”
In their defence, the dental practice apparently commented: “A review such as yours puts our practice and our employees at genuine risk. It affects the livelihoods of dentists, nurses and supporting staff. Nurses and staff with families, young children and mortgages.”
Elliot Adams, spokesman at Yelp, said: “Businesses that choose to sue customers to silence them rather than address their comments often bring additional unwanted attention to the original criticism. Litigation isn’t a very good substitute for customer service.”
“While Yelp continues to fight to protect the users of its platform, the law in the UK makes it surprisingly easy for businesses to intimidate consumers into removing honest reports of their experiences.”
Of course anyone who has experienced an unpleasant service is entitled to put a review on a website, but it seems we must always consider the potential consequences.