In which it metaphorically hits the fan

by Karen on August 11, 2010

Remember a couple weeks ago when I wrote about my bad vet experience? I decided the best way to handle it was to share my experiences on an online reviews forum, find a new vet, and move on. And that’s what I did.

Except that appears to be only the beginning.

This morning, Tony let me sleep in a little. He woke me up a little before 10 a.m. The first thing he said to me: “Guess who just called? That vet. She’s angry about your review, and she called it ‘borderline defamation.'”

No, I am not kidding you. She found my review on Yelp, which was posted under the name “Karen.” She put two and two together, found Tony’s number in the patient information we filed with the office, and called to confront us. Except she didn’t want to confront me, the actual writer of the review. Instead, she wanted to argue with Tony about what his wife wrote.

Of course, Tony apologized and promised he’d control his wife better in the future. Oh wait. No. That’s what would have happened if this was 1953.

ANYWAY. Tony called her back once I was up. Because she refused to speak to me at first, and Tony hadn’t even read the review, she read the entire thing to him on the phone. All eight paragraphs. She claimed that my opinion was false, and threatened to consult a lawyer if we didn’t remove or edit the review to “reflect the truth.”

Of course, Tony reminded her that, by definition, opinions cannot be false. He stood by me and the review, and argued our point articulately. And believe me, I know better than anyone, this man can argue.

But he’s also civil and calm (one of the reasons he’s such a good arguer). I was dying to tell her exactly what I thought about her threats. Tony finally said, “Look, my wife is sitting right here. She wrote the review. You should really talk to her about it.”

First of all, she said to me, “I started my practice THE YEAR YOU WERE BORN.” (I’m assuming she got that information from my Yelp profile?) Seriously? Her argument was that I don’t have a right to an opinion on how they handled my dog, because I am not an expert like she is. And, based on the comment about my age, I also don’t have a right to an opinion because I’m 25.

I’m not a vet. But I am a dog owner, and I have been since I was a small child. I didn’t write the review from the perspective of a veterinarian. I wrote the review from the perspective of a dog owner who was frustrated with what I felt was not an adequate level of care provided for my pet. I wrote the review from the perspective of a consumer, because that’s how review sites work.

Here is where I should probably remind you that I’m 5 and a half months pregnant. And it’s August. I’m hot, I’m crabby, and the last thing I need is someone telling me I’m too young to have an opinion. But I calmly told her I won’t be threatened or pushed around, and I feel it’s incredibly unethical for her to threaten to sue us just because we were unhappy with her service.

What this vet didn’t know when she called us is that we both have a background in journalism. We are passionate about the First Amendment and educated on libel laws. My husband listens to Supreme Court arguments on his iPod. For fun. We won’t be bullied into removing or editing the review in a way that compromises our First Amendment rights.

Of course, I hope this is the end of it. I hope she doesn’t try to take us to court. We certainly don’t have the money to pay a lawyer right now. But I’m not taking down my review, and I’m prepared for the challenge if it comes to that. I believe strongly that consumers should have an outlet for their opinions about businesses, and they should be able to share their experiences with other consumers without the fear of being sued by an angry business owner.

Have any of you ever been bullied by a business for an online review? Do any of my kind, supportive readers have a law degree and want to give me an opinion on what to do next? Because all I know for sure is that it feels wrong to give in to this kind of bullying.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 19 comments }

1 Amie August 11, 2010 at 3:47 pm

A good friend of mine just had a nasty run-in with her vet too… What’s going on with vets these days?

While I do not have a law degree, I do have a degree in Public Policy and if this vet continues to give you trouble you can always “counter-threat” (ha!) that you’ll get a local news station on your side to help you fight this battle. Calling up Seven on Your Side (or a similar investigative news team) can help expose wrong doing and give you some (free!) help in settling your troubles.

I’m sure a local news crew would love a story like this!

Best of luck and good for you (for knowing your rights and sticking to them)!

2 Kacie August 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I know this really has you angry, but I just think it’s so funny! What a dumb vet, to call you up about it and then threaten you. PSHHHHH! Let her call an attorney. It would waste her own money and then that would be even more funny.

But yeah she won’t do that. Just think of all the bad press it would generate for her!

3 Karen August 11, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Amie – Good advice! We have some connections with local newspapers (my husband used to work for a newspaper that covers our area). We’ve decided to contact their consumer affairs reporter if she pursues it. At the very least, it might help us find an attorney who specializes in First Amendment rights and is willing to help us out for the good press.

4 Megan August 11, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Wow, I’m thinking that if she spent a little less time stewing over dissatisfied patients and a little more time improving her bedside manner, she wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. I can’t believe she was holding it over your head that you were so young and supposedly unworldly, when SHE was the one who was behaving so immaturely. Geez. Hang in there!!

5 Mrs. Money August 11, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Wow… so I guess they don’t have anything better to do than search for their online reviews? Maybe that’s because they have lots of time as a result of letting their patients vaccinate their own dogs. ;) That’s ridiculous. I hope this is the end of it!

6 eemusings August 11, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I guess that’s the good thing about journalists….they don’t take things lying down!
eemusings´s last blog post ..50 questions that will free your mind Part 2

7 jenn August 11, 2010 at 9:09 pm

the thing is is that if she really cared about her business, she should have tried to make the situation better, not worse, and given herself a chance to redeem herself. secondly, if she is THAT great, then she shouldn’t feel threatened by one bad review. thirdly, you can probably contact yelp and let them know that they are harassing commenters. that’s a huge no-no in the eyes of yelp.

8 Elizabeth August 11, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Um…shouldn’t she be spending more time with her four-legged patients rather than stalking review sites AND hunting you down? Perhaps if she did that, the negative review would not have been posted in the first place!

If I were you, I would looking into contacting the BBB and possibly the American Veterinary Medical Association. I would also file a police report if she continues to harass you – in fact, I’m wondering if what SHE did was legal. To use personal patient information to track you down doesn’t seem right.

9 Karen August 11, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Thank you so much for the support, everyone! It’s been a pretty lousy day, but having people on my side has certainly made it a little easier.

If she lets it go now, so will I. But we’re coming up with a plan B just in case she continues to harass us.

10 Lynne August 12, 2010 at 4:17 am

Hi there
I just happened to see your blog post while looking for something about living with less. Anyway, the only reason I am writing this is because we recently got to experience the court system up close and personal. Although I am probably old enough to be your mom, your age doesn’t make you less important. But what I have been through when it comes to things like people yelling at you and possibly doing something to hurt your new little family, well..I guess if it was me after knowing what I know can happen when you go to court…to me it would not be worth it. We went through a grueling 3 year nightmare over a lemon law lawsuit. We told the truth. The dealership got technicians to lie. Their lawyer lied. They won on a very tiny technicality. Justice in court? There isn’t much anymore. Justice in life? There is plenty. This world has a law of compensation. What goes around comes around. I would remove the review and just use the biggest campaign of word of mouth you have ever seen. Tell the guy next door, tell all your friends who have dogs. Eventually, it will spread like a virus. And if what you do doesn’t make a difference, her own life’s justice will get her in the end. The people who lied on the stand in our case only hurt themselves. They have to live with the one in the mirror. I get to see someone in the mirror who was honest. And our share of the court costs? 26 thousand dollars. Luckily we were able to get them to waive court fees if we didn’t file an appeal or request another trial. If we had not gotten them waived and refused to pay, they would have put a black mark on our credit and a lien on our house. Sorry for going into so much detail about my own life but I am truly talking about your life. Let her go from your life. If I was your Mom, that is what I would say. Take it easy in life. It is too short. thanks for hearing me out, and leave the dufus to her own screwups. She’ll get hers in the long run. And you won’t even have to be involved in her demise. Happy life. Lynne

11 Bobbi August 12, 2010 at 9:13 am

Wow, she much have plenty of time on her hands. :( I’m sorry she is causing all this trouble. Must be something in the water with the vets lately. My friend took her cat to a new vet and asked him to clean out her ears and the vet refused and said that my friend could do it. He said the cat was not cooperative and he would not touch her. He had the nurse do the shots because the cat ‘was not happy’. I wouldn’t be happy either if someone was giving me a shot, but this is the mans JOB. Something in the water for sure. :( Good luck.

12 M August 12, 2010 at 11:03 am

Can you find a way to make this a win-win? Tell her that you’d be happy to change the review if she can find a way to satisfy you as a customer, ie. make amends, refund your money, give you a free grooming, whatever it is. (People (including vets) make mistakes, or have bad days. That’s a shame, but it is HOW you rectify mistakes that separates out the wheat from the chaff) If she refuses to budge and refuses to find a solution to your poor customer experience- the review stands. Or you can amend it to say, that you had given her a chance to have you amend the review more favorably, but she didn’t take you up on her offer.

13 M August 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Just laughing here. Or you can amend the review to say that she had called you to harrass you for writing it. That she had tracked you down and yelled at you. (Be calm and factual). So not only will you get bad service at this vet’s , if you complain, you get harrassed.

14 Amanda August 13, 2010 at 11:04 am

You’re such a better person than I am. I would be editing the review — to let people know that after reading the review, the vet called and harassed me, threatening to sue. Oh, and just as a sidenote, you might want to keep a recorder handy. After all, it is legal to record any conversation as long as one of the parties involved knows it’s being recorded (so my lawyer father-in-law has told me). You never know, it could come in handy. But honestly, stand your ground. She has no right to treat you this way. And if a vet had treated my dog like that, you’d better believe I’d be telling people about it.

15 Brandy August 13, 2010 at 11:46 am

My sister had a run in with a lady like this. She threatened to sue my sister for a bleach stain on the counter of the bathroom that my sister had cleaned. She called my sister for a few weeks and then just stopped when my sister stopped answering the phone. The thing is, people like this are just bullies. They are hoping to scare you enough that you will do what they want. She has no intention of actually suing you. She’s just using scare tactics to try to get her way. Don’t try to reason with her because you can’t reason with people like this. My advice would be not to talk to her at all. Just don’t answer the phone when she calls. Just ignore her and she’ll eventually give up and go away.

16 d August 13, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Karen,
You also have the opportunity to report her to the Better Business Bureau.

17 Angie August 16, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Contact the BBB.

18 margot August 19, 2010 at 11:37 pm

1) First, I wouldn’t worry about the vet or about needing a lawyer. She’s just bluffing. She’s used to being a blow-hard as a means of intimidating people. I’m sure she’ll fade away. She can’t possibly want to spend money on a pointless lawsuit. If bad reviews were illegal, a million websites and newspaper and magazine book, movie and restaurant reviewers would have been shut down already.

2) I’d go back to your review and add an update reporting what the vet did in response to your review. Anyone reading your review should know this. Her bad behavior should not be shielded. And if she’s done this to you, she’s done it to others who left a bad review, so best to let people know what her tactics are.

3) Because she deserves it, and as others have suggested, perhaps you want to find other ways to highlight her unethical intimidation tactics and her poor vet work. I’d report her to the BBB. I’d also report her to whatever the national and local vet associates are. That’s the most powerful way to do things. And I’d consider contacting media and leaving other reviews in relevant places.

4) On the tiny chance that she does sue you, I’m 100% sure you won’t actually need a lawyer. (And I am a lawyer.) You can win the lawsuit yourself on summary judgment – that means that the other side has no valid legal argument, so the lawsuit is dismissed before it even goes anywhere. I (and others on here) as well as the internet could tell you what to put in a motion that you could easily write.

19 Karen August 19, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Margot – Thanks for your input. I live in Indiana, and we thankfully have an anti-SLAPP law in place in my state. We haven’t heard anything else about it at this point, but it would be easy enough for her lawyer to draft an intimidating letter to us (even if they have no plans to pursue it) in the hopes that it would be enough to scare us into removing the review.

We know (and if the lawyer is worth his student loans, he will, too) that this suit wouldn’t have a prayer of making it to court. I’m confident we could draft an intelligent enough letter to a lawyer letting him/her know that we understand the anti-SLAPP law, and that we’re prepared to file a motion to dismiss the suit on that basis. I think that would be the end of it, if it’s not over yet. The nice thing about the anti-SLAPP law is that if she DID pursue it, once the case was dismissed, she’d be responsible for our legal fees. I agree with you that she probably wouldn’t want to pursue it, and even if she did, it would be dismissed.

We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it, but I’m hoping this is the end of it. If she lets it go, then I’m happy to let it go. I said my piece on the review, and I did update it to include a note about her threatening phone call, because I agree — it’s likely she’s done this before and will do it again, and others should know it.

Comments on this entry are closed.