Le­gal alert over so­cial me­dia re­views

The Courier-Mail - - FRONT PAGE - VANDA CAR­SON

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.

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