Can You Be Fined for Posting a Negative Online Review?

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Many of us have signed ‘I Agree’ contracts with businesses without actually reading the terms of the agreement. Just about every time we download an app to our smartphones or make a purchase online, that little box pops up, asking us to check ‘I Agree’ if we want to continue with the transaction. Have you ever wondered what is contained in that rather one-sided agreement? If you read some, you’d probably be shocked and  feel as though your rights as a consumer had been violated.

Take the website Kleargear.com, for example. A seller of “office toys for geeks,” one of the terms in its online agreement was that if any buyer posted a negative online review about Kleargear.com or its products, the reviewer would be fined $3500. Whatever happened to freedom of speech?!

Recently, a purchaser of Kleargear.com products expressed her disappointment with her Kleargear.com experience on an online review site. The woman, who bought merchandise from the company but never actually received the package she ordered, reached out numerous times to the company to check on her purchase. Finally, after a month of no responses and no order delivery, Paypal automatically cancelled the transaction. The woman vented her frustrations by posting a negative comment about Kleargear.com online. Three years later, the woman was shocked to get a notice from Kleargear.com demanding that she delete that negative comment or pay $3,500 for “legal fees and court costs.” They even threatened to go to a third-party collection firm if she didn’t pay the money in 30 calendar days. Additionally, Kleargear.com allegedly dinged the woman’s credit card, negatively affecting her credit score.

California law is very clear about this type of behavior from a business. Under California Civil Code section 1670.5:

(a) If the court as a matter of law finds the contract or any clause of the contract to have been unconscionable at the time it was made the court may refuse to enforce the contract, or it may enforce the remainder of the contract without the unconscionable clause, or it may so limit the application of any unconscionable clause as to avoid any unconscionable result.

(b)When it is claimed or appears to the court that the contract or any clause thereof may be unconscionable the parties shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present evidence as to its commercial setting, purpose, and effect to aid the court in making the determination.

In other words, an experienced consumer rights lawyer can fight to defeat the enforcement of a term in a contract or entire contract that is unconscionable, or unusually harsh and shocking to the conscience. This often applies to terms that are buried in the middle of the contract or  terms that have no relevance to the central purpose of the contract. It is important to thoroughly review the terms of any contract you sign, digitally or in person.

Aggressive, unconscionable acts by companies can have serious impacts on consumers, both financially and emotionally. Whether your credit is affected or you suffer emotional trauma from being ‘bullied’ by a business, you have legal rights. Know that the aggressive Los Angeles consumer rights attorneys at BIKLAW are on your side. If you feel that you have been taken advantage of by a business, contact them today to discuss your potential case. 

 

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