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Negative Yelp post lands reviewer with $750K suit

A woman is so unhappy with the work of her contractor that she posts a scathing review on Yelp. The contractor claims he lost business because of it and is suing her.

Dietz Development's current Yelp rating.
Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The Web is a lovely place to not merely get mad, but get even.

But what if the company you're criticizing thinks your version of "even" isn't even-handed?

A woman in Fairfax, Va., may now have to go to court to prove that her Yelping assessment of a contractor's work was vaguely just.

The way the Washington Post tells it, Jane Perez believed that Christopher Dietz had not merely damaged her home, as opposed to repair it, but also invoiced her for work he never did at all.

And then there's the jewelry.

Perez suggested that some of her baubles went missing and that it could only have been Dietz who had thieved them. He, she claimed, "was the only one with a key."

Oh, I almost forgot. She also accused him of trespassing on her property.

Some might have imagined that such serious accusations placed on Yelp might incite a reaction. Perez, apparently, did not. She told the Post that she never, ever imagined her self-expression could result in the expression of a $750,000 lawsuit from Dietz.

Dietz, you see, says he had a very nice Yelp score until Perez dropped her feelings online. He claims he has lost $300,000 worth of business.

"There is no one to protect businesses when people slam their name," he told the Post. Has he not heard of the Serbian mafia?

Dietz's version tends to revolve around the idea that Perez asked him to perform work beyond the scope of their agreement and refused to pay him. The job he agreed to do, he says, he most certainly did.

Sometimes, relations between home owners and contractors can deteriorate to the level of Apple-Samsung.

Contractors sometimes (often) take on too many jobs at once. They sometimes (often) don't complete work on time. Their final invoices can sometimes seem as if they were written by the author of "50 Shades of Grey."

Yet if the facts are as the Post stated them, Perez certainly made serious accusations of a factual -- rather than opinion-based -- nature.

One imagines that the lawsuit will demand that she prove her accusations.

She has removed her Yelp review. This, she says, is because Dietz fired back at her online and made false statements. These were, astonishingly enough, ranked very highly by Google when she searched her own name.

There have been cases where businesses have gone after negative reviewers with the simple intention of silencing them. There are several governments around the world that work on the same principle.

Sometimes, courts don't look fondly upon companies that go after reviewers.

Last year, a California dentist was ordered to pay $81,000 in legal costs to Yelp and to a husband and wife who wrote a negative review.

In this case, the judge decided that the review raised matters of public interest -- mercury in dental fillings, as it happens.

However, in the Perez case, the review seems to raise clear matters of fact.

Oddly, though, the Yelp entry for Dietz's company now contains very polarized reviews, resulting in Dietz Development only having a cumulative 2-star rating.

Reviewer David H. offers: "Pay no mind to hateful hipsters who post negative reviews of a company they have no knowledge of."

On the other hand, Hydd L. insists: "I would never do business with a 'man' (more like boy) who can't handle criticism in a calm, professional manner."

Then there Chris E. who writes: "Part of choosing a contractor is looking into their business online and here I find out that instead of encouraging his customers whom he has good relations with to write positive reviews that would bury the negative he sues a woman for writing a poor review that only ALLEGED that he may have stole property.

Ah, yes, only alleged.

I wonder which side, should this get to court, will have its facts straight.