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Claimant awarded £25,000 in damages for defamatory review

Claimant awarded £25,000 in damages for defamatory review

18th February 2021 - Published by Kuits Intellectual Property Team

The case

An issue that many businesses increasingly face is dealing with reviews on social media or review/ comparison websites. The recent case of ‘Summerfield Browne v Waymouth’ related to a review from a former client of a solicitor’s firm posted on Trustpilot. The review went beyond expressing dissatisfaction with the service received, and in particular stated “a total waste of money another scam solicitor”.

The solicitor’s firm, Summerfield Browne, brought proceedings for libel claiming that the words used were defamatory, i.e. that the statement tends to lower the reputation of the claimant in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, and that it caused them serious harm. They claimed that the harm caused was a reduction in enquiries through their website for a period of approximately five weeks following the posting of the review.

The judgment

The Defendant was not represented in the proceedings although he filed a defence. At an interim hearing parts of that defence were struck out and the Defendant was ordered to file an amended defence in default of which the defence would be struck out. No amended defence was filed and the Defendant failed to attend the hearing. Judgment was therefore entered for the Claimant. The Court assessed damages in the sum of £25,000 based on evidence of a reduction in new enquiries in the period following the review and ordered the Defendant to pay the Claimant’s costs.

The Court also ordered Trustpilot, although not a party to the proceedings, to remove the defamatory posting. However, in a recent article in the Law Gazette, Trustpilot are reported to have said that they have not been served with any order and in the event that they are, they would challenge it. They claim that it is important for customers to be able to give feedback, whether that feedback is good or bad. However, it can be argued that this statement misses the point that there is a difference between a negative review and one that is defamatory. While a genuinely dissatisfied customer should have the freedom to express their view, as this case demonstrates, that does not mean that people can make defamatory comments without consequence.

Get in touch with an Intellectual Property specialist today

The judgment provides guidance for a potential claimant in respect of the amount of damages that could be awarded. However, it is important to consider the award in context; here, as mentioned above, the Defendant did not engage with the court process in any meaningful way. It is reasonable to assume that had evidence been provided by the Defendant to rebut the amount of damages claimed, that may have led to a lower award.

If you have fallen victim to a defamatory review and would like advice on how best to tackle this issue, please call Intellectual Property Solicitor Helen Harmel on 0161 838 7816 or email helenharmel@kuits.com

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