Social media defamation - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report

Social media defamation

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Justin Hamel says he is in the middle of an ongoing nightmare. He is in the middle of not one, but two lawsuits.

"Yeah, I'm spending thousands and thousands of dollars each month on attorney fees to defend myself," Hamel said.

And you won't believe why. No really, you won't believe it.

"I went on Yelp online and left some reviews on my experiences and opinions as a customer," said Hamel.

Hamel said he paid Paulson's Construction in Howell $20,000 to remodel his bathroom. Hamel said he wasn't happy with the work, so he called the company. 

"I just basically wanted them to pay someone more qualified to fix their mess."

But he said they did nothing, with no offer to re-do the bathroom.

Hamel wrote a scathing review about Paulson Construction on a review site called Yelp. Among other things it reads, "WORD OF WARNING! Doing business with Paulson's Construction or Paulson's Construction owner Paul McClorey should be avoided at all costs!"

Then Paulson's Construction did do something - they sued him. Hamel said the owners slapped him with two lawsuits alleging that Hamel was guilty of defaming the business with that Yelp review, resulting in what they call a significant loss to business.

"It was shocking that I was being sued for defamation, especially considering my bathroom was in the condition that it's in."

Hamel's case recently caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union who says the lawsuit is frivolous and unfounded.

Bill Street is a Saginaw attorney who does with work the ACLU, and is very familiar with SLAPP lawsuits.

"A SLAPP lawsuit is a strategic lawsuit against public participation. It is traditionally a lawsuit against citizens who have lodged complaints in some way."

The ACLU and Street feel strongly that Paulson's Construction has very little chance of winning this SLAPP lawsuit against Hamel. So TV 5 wanted to contact Paulson's Construction and find out why they would pay a lawyer money and not just fix the work.

We were unable to reach the owner of Paulson's Construction to get a comment on the case, and were also unable to ask him whether or not he stands behind the work in Hamel's bathroom. But according to this deposition, the company fired at least one employee related to the quality of the work done in Hamel's bathroom.

So just how bad was the work? 

Hamel said, "Some black splotches in the countertop. The framing work was done incorrectly.  There's white pits. And tiles with broken corners in the shower floor."

So could this happen to you? Experts say yes, and it's happening more and more. But they offer a few tips to make sure you don't lose the case. First, when you post a company review, make it clear the review is an opinion, and not a fact.

Also, check with your homeowner's insurance policy. Your legal fees may be covered under the personal liability section of the policy.

And your number one defense is telling the truth.

In Hamel's case, he says the Yelp review is 100 percent true.

Meanwhile, Hamel is out $20,000 for the bathroom remodel, and another $20,000 in legal fees. 

"I just wish that they would pay someone more qualified to fix their mess so I could enjoy the bathroom I originally paid for a year and a half ago," Hamel said.

Hamel adds he can't wait for this nightmare to be over, and is planning a counter suit of his own to recoup the tens of thousands of dollars he's lost from defending his First Amendment rights.

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