Legal alert over social media reviews
A DOG owner is being sued for $100,000 for posting a “spiteful” review of a Brisbane vet on social media in what is believed to be the first Twitter defamation action in Queensland.
The four-year legal battle which exposes the dangers of posting critical reviews online erupted after several posts criticised a $427 vet bill for two stitches.
A BRISBANE vet is suing a beagle owner for $100,000 over a “spitefully” worded review on social media in what is believed to be Queensland’s first Twitter defamation action.
In an ominous warning for social media users, the fouryear legal battle erupted after Carrie Barlow, owner of Valentine, vented her frustration on Twitter claiming Albion Vet Surgery marked up dog medicines by 400 per cent.
Allen O’Grady, who operated the business at the time along with Eatons Hill Vet Surgery, claims in his District Court lawsuit that Ms Barlow defamed him seven times in 10 days in October 2014.
Media lawyers believe it to be the first Twitter defamation battle in Queensland to go to a hearing.
Millions of reviews of busi- neses are posted on social media in Australia every year.
Derek Wilding of the Centre for Media Transition at the University of Technology Sydney warned social media users to be careful.
“These recent cases indicate that people should be careful what they say on social media,” he said. “They might (be considered) publishers … and end up in court.”
Mr O’Grady claims the defamatory imputations in Barlow’s posts include that the surgery grossly overcharges, lacks morals, takes advantage of clients, is uncaring, is petty and lacks compassion.
“The vet is a very grumpy (sic) who should not be dealing with people or animals” Ms Barlow wrote on True Local on October 15.
The posts also include Ms Barlow’s response after the practice wrote to tell her it would no longer offer emergency treatment for her pets and, days later, a legal letter threatening defamation action.
Ms Barlow is defending the claims on the basis of fair comment and expression of opinion and denies she acted out of malice.
Her posts followed a $427 vet bill to give Valentine two stitches after he was attacked by another dog. Valentine was treated by another vet and not Mr O’Grady.
Ms Barlow denies ever questioning Mr O’Grady’s morals, professional knowledge or competence.
She argues her opinion of the practice was mirrored by other customers who have published negative reviews of the practice online since 2011 and says she obtained a quote from another vet which was $247 less for the same service.
Ms Barlow argues that, weeks after her posts, she “removed five of the seven” comments, but days later realised she was unable to remove the True Local posting.
It was only when she read the defamation claim that she realised she had not taken her Twitter post down and immediately removed it.
Outside court, Ms Barlow told The Courier-Mail her experience with the saga was a “legal nightmare”.
“It’s dragged on now for more than four years and had an enormous financial and emotional impact on our family,” she said. “The worst thing is that there are people out there writing online reviews about businesses every day without knowing that this could happen to them too.”
Mr O’Grady’s lawyer did not return calls for comment.
A trial was due last month but was pushed to February due to Mr O’Grady’s ill health.
LEGAL SNARL: Valentine the beagle, who is at the centre of defamation action over online reviews.
DOG FIGHT: Carrie Barlow, pictured with Valentine as a puppy in 2006, and vet surgery operator Allen O’Grady.