Can I be sued in Texas for what I say online?
Yes. You can be sued in Texas for what you say online.
But I thought I had free speech?
You do. But the number of lawsuits for speaking your mind is increasing as the number of places you can speak your mind is growing. You may be more exposed to a lawsuit than you think. Places like Yelp and Amazon keep asking for your reviews. And you are more than happy to give a review, especially if you were unhappy with the product or service. I mean, it’s the American thing to do, right? Watch out. Your review can get a business on the phone with its lawyers, and all of a sudden, “You’ve been served!”
How can I be sued for an online review?
You can be sued for defamation if you publish an unfavorable review online that someone says is untrue and harms their business. The specific form of defamation that they are accusing you of is called libel (not to be confused with “slander” which is the verbal speaking version of defamation.) I know, I sound like a Philadelphia Lawyer.
Anyway, here is a simple definition, courtesy Law.com:
“Libel: to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast… an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others.”
So if what I say is true, I’m safe, right?
If it’s factual and provable, maybe.
(Remember, I’m an insurance agent in Spicewood Texas, and not a lawyer, so I’m not giving you legal advice. See a real live breathing attorney for legal advice if you are trying to find a line to not cross.)
But that doesn’t mean a very angry business won’t file a lawsuit anyway.
Remember, if you ever do what many of us do at times, and get a little emotional in a review, and mix in a few strong opinions, and kinda secretly hope to cost them some business (let’s face it- we’re all human)… you may accidentally leave the territory of “truth is an absolute defense against libel” and wander into that awful no-man’s land of “see you in court!”
How else can a business “get me” for speaking my mind?
I bet you’ve never heard of an “anti-disparagement clause” or a “non-disparagement clause.” This is a way that businesses are trying to fight back against what they view as unfair criticism online… criticism that they know can spread like wildfire. These clauses are growing exponentially, and you probably didn’t even know.
It’s simple: a business hides some fine print in all that stuff that you scroll past in a hurry to get to the “I agree” part so you can purchase whatever it is you are buying. In that fine print, you agree to not ever give them a negative review, or in some cases, you agree to not review them at all- even if it’s a positive review.
Congress is trying to prohibit this unfair and usually hidden attack on your right to review a business. But right now, you are only protected from this in California.
So read before you sign. Look for this new tactic in the fine print.
So tell me, what else can I do to protect myself?
Assuming you still want to write the occasional online review about a product or service you received (good for you!)… you can do three things:
1. Stick to the facts.
Whenever possible, say only what is verifiable, and leave opinions out. I know. Easier said than done. Try re-reading your review and look for facts before hitting “publish.”
2. Check your emotions at the door.
Pretend the review is about a company owned by a good friend. You want and need to tell the truth, so they get better at what they sell. But you don’t want to hurt them, since they are your friend. Treat all businesses this way. Help them get better, and maybe they won’t get bitter over the review.
3. Call us at Whiteside Insurance about your coverage.
The typical homeowners insurance and renters insurance policy sold in Texas normally has no protection for personal injury (the type of coverage you need if you get sued for defamation, slander or libel). You probably need an affordable endorsement to get this type of protection.
So call us if you aren’t sure what your coverage limits are for exercising your right to free speech. We’d love to take your phone call. Will we try to talk to you about more coverage? Maybe. But no pressure. Maybe you need even more protection against libel suits. We could talk about an affordable umbrella insurance policy in Texas. We serve the Hill County of Texas and Austin, and we have customers all over the great Lone Star State.
Call us at (877) 693-8882.