Question posted in the General Law category relating to Western Cape
Hello, I bought a car from a dealership that I very rapidly discovered defects on and got the vehicle tested for faults. I have been in a dispute with the owner over getting a refund, replacement or repairs on the vehicle for months. I have been meditating the problem via a private company after waiting a few month for them, when the mediation had seemingly broken down I posted the same 1 star review twice, one on hellopeter, the other on google reviews (which are still up). I did post a different review on Hellopeter before the current one and it was removed quickly by hellopeter, possibly flagged by the owner, the reason being it was too general/defamatory. From what i remember, I said something like 'i wished i had read the other hellopeter reviews and that the dealership seems like sharks and bad people, stay away'.
The owner of the dealership is now threatening/will be suing me for "posting negative comments on social media". Does he have a leg to stand on? Is this something he can sue me for even though I have had a genuenly negative experience and expressed my honest thoughts, feelings and experiences about him and his business? Should I remove the reviews and only post them after things are resolved with the car? The reviews will still be negative as its been a negative experience...
Information Requested by Lawyer
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Answer to the Question
In order to sue you, he will need to prove in court that you defamed him or his company.
Defamation is a part of the law of delict and can be defined as any damaging statements made publicly with the intention to harm or damage someone’s good name and reputation. In order for a person to succeed in a delictual claim of defamation, there are certain elements that must be present. The elements include wrongfulness, intention and the publication of a defamatory statement or behaviour towards another. Note that the law does not require the statement to be false in any way.
There are three defences in South African law that justifies a defamatory statement: (1) If the statement is true and in public interest (the statement is substantially true and the public has a legitimate interest in hearing it); (2) the statement is seen as a fair comment (allowing freedom of expression) and (3) if the statement is made on a privileged occasion (a certain type of relationship exists between the person making the defamatory statement and the person to whom the content was communicated, for example an attorney-client relationship).
I think that you would probably get away with using the 2nd defence, being that your statement is seen as a fair comment - allowing freedom of expression. I mean, it is a review website that you posted the comment on, and from what you've said above, it doesn't actually sound like you're trying to trash the company, just leaving an irritated comment.
Your genuine negative experience and honest thoughts, feelings and experiences about him and his business is what is going to get you out of this - for sure.
If he sues you, not only will he need to ventilate how bad his service is in court, but you would be able to leave further comments (or go to the press) about how you are getting sued because you are leaving an honest comment. That would be the end of his business.
What you should do is -
1) Either completely ignore his threats and see what happens; or
2) Write a letter to him explaining how your comment does not constitute defamation, and even if it did, that you've got an excellent defence to the claim (see above).
Q: Should I remove the reviews and only post them after things are resolved with the car? The reviews will still be negative as its been a negative experience... --> You can, but you would then be giving him what he wants, and you might be indirectly admitting that the reviews are defamatory.
In my opinion, your HelloPeter review is not defamatory and is rather an honest explanation of what happened. Nobody would see that as you trying to slate his company!
I don't think that you have any reason to worry.
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