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Nasty Google Reviewer feels the sting of retribution

$750,000 damages for false Google review

An Adelaide lawyer was awarded $750,000 in damages because of a defamatory review posted on Google by someone who had never used his services.

The Review

Barrister Gordon Cheng, a well-respected member of the legal profession, was stunned when he lost 80% of his clients in late 2018 and early 2019.  He discovered the following review had been posted on “Google My Business”:

RE: Gordon Cheng Barristers & Solicitors

Stay clear of this place! Gordon brings shame to all lawyers and is infamous for his lack of professionalism amongst the law society in Adelaide. He is only concerned about how to get most of your money by giving you false and misleading advices, and convincing you to go to Court when it is clear that he doesn’t have a case to win.

Reviewer tried to hide her identity (and posts a second review)

The review, posted by Isabel Lok, was also published in Chinese. After Mr Cheng lodged a Concerns Notice and a complaint with Google, Ms Lok changed her name on the review to “Bel”. After Mr Cheng served her with court proceedings, Ms Lok changed her name once again from “Bel” to “Cindy”.

Despite legal action, the review remained posted. Ms Lok also published another review using her father’s name in mid-2019 which simply read: “Bad Lawyer! Not at all reliable”.

Court takes a firm stance against baseless poor reviews

Mr Cheng had never met Ms Lok or done any legal work for her. Ms Lok provided no offer of amends, no apology and a blanket refusal to withdraw the review.

The Court found “the only conclusion that can be drawn (from Ms Lok’s actions) is that her intention was to destroy the Plaintiff’s livelihood, and cause him distress, anxiety and financial hardship” and awarded Mr Cheng $750,000 together with his legal costs on an indemnity basis.

The end of anonymous reviews?

This case illustrates that people can no longer remain anonymous when using online services. The publication of defamatory comments, even in a review, can lead to serious consequences for the publisher.

A copy of the decision can be found here.

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Please note that this article has been prepared by Margaret Miller, partner of Bell Legal Group, for information purposes only. It is not legal advice nor should it be relied upon as such.