We may be seeing the start of a trend in California, as one lawsuit regarding a review posted on the website Yelp.com settled last week just as a second case got underway.
San Francisco-based chiropractor Steven Biegel and his former patient, Christopher Norberg, have reportedly settled a lawsuit relating to a critical review that Norberg posted on Yelp. Biegel commenced the lawsuit in February 2008, alleging that Norberg’s post wrongly accused Biegel of being dishonest and engaging in fraudulent billing practices. The case – which has received considerable attention in recent weeks (including here and here) – involved claims of defamation and false light. The parties were preparing for a trial in the coming months.
Published reports indicate that the parties reached a resolution last week, following a court-ordered mediation. The settlement terms were not disclosed, but Norberg has replaced his post on Yelp.com with the following statement:
A misunderstanding between both parties led us to act out of hand. I chose to ignore Dr. Biegel's initial request to discuss my posting. In hindsight, I should have remained open to his concerns. Both Dr. Biegel and I strongly believe in a person's right to express their opinions in a public forum. We both encourage the Internet community to act responsibly.
The statement also appears on Norberg’s website, Standupforfreespeech.com.
The dispute has prompted strong reactions from Yelp users, who have taken to the comments section of the Yelp pages for Biegel’s Advanced Chiropractic Center (here and here) to address the case and the issues it raised. Yelp user Sherri C. writes that she has never been to Dr. Beigel’s clinic and, in light of the lawsuit, “wouldn’t dream of setting foot inside.” Yelp user Yeesh K., on the other hand, argues that “[f]reedom of speech comes with the responsibility of being held accountable for slanderous or libelous statements.”
Just as Biegel and Norberg resolved their differences, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a case brought by Foster City, CA pediatric dentist Yvonne Wong against the parents of a boy she treated. The parents posted a negative review of Dr. Wong, and Dr. Wong commenced a lawsuit. In a post on the official Yelp blog, Yelp.com CEO Jeremy Stoppelman remarked that, based on the Chronicle’s report, it appears that Dr. Wong did not contact the reviewer and instead “went straight to her lawyer." We'll be monitoring this case in our database entry, Wong v. Tai Jing.