A Natomas lawyer is suing a Yelp user for a negative review he claims was fabricated just to hurt his law firm.
However, for the lawsuit to move forward, bankruptcy attorney Anthony Hughes will need to convince Yelp to reveal the identity of the person who wrote the review.
The Yelp reviewer is known only as"Shaan D." In her review, Shaan D. said Hughes was a nightmare bankruptcy attorney and claimed he solicited her to go out with him when she asked for his help. Hughes denies the claims posted on the review.
News10 sent the user a message on Yelp, but did not get a reply.
"I think that this is a review writer for hire from India," Hughes said.
He believes the review was made up to hurt his business.
"The bankruptcy attorney industry is very competitive," Hughes explained. "So I haven't ruled out the fact that it could be a competitor."
The review, which 12 voters described as useful, has already had an impact on business.
"We did have one client's boyfriend call up and say that he didn't want his girlfriend to be represented by our office because of the negative review," Hughes said.
Hughes couldn't reach Shaan D. through Yelp's message feature. He said Yelp refused to take down the review and simply encouraged him to respond with his own comment.
"Yelp's not interested in the truth," Hughes said. "They're interested in creating buzz and activity on their website, which increases Yelp's ratings and traffic, and therefore the value of Yelp's website with complete disregard for the truth."
The only option left was a lawsuit. The next step is to subpoena Yelp to reveal Shaan D.'s true identity.
In a similar lawsuit, a Virginia court ruled Yelp had to identify seven anonymous users who criticized a local carpet cleaner.
When News10 asked Yelp about Hughes' lawsuit, the company referred to the frequently asked questions section on its website, where they discourage businesses from suing reviewers and warn lawsuits could cost the business money. But, Hughes has a warning of his own for reviewers like Shaan D.
"There could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages caused by an online review, and that could end up being a judgement against someone for the rest of their life," Hughes said.
In an email to News10, Yelp wrote:
"Defamation cases are very difficult to win, can cause additional negative publicity for the business and can even result in the business being ordered to reimburse the reviewer for legal fees. Instead of suing their customers, we recommend business owners engage in the same free speech afforded to reviewers and provide their response online. In both cases, they should stick to the facts and their opinion and avoid speculation."