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Car dealership threatens lawsuit over Sanford man’s bad review

April 2, 2014
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In the wake of a WFTV Channel 9 report about a Sanford man who was threatened with a lawsuit by a local car dealership for writing a bad online review, there’s only one thing for many to say: “What the fuck is going on?”

Steven Dinsmore took his car to Evolution Auto for an appraisal and felt he got low-balled, Channel 9 reports. He received an appraisal of $1,500 more from CarMax and went online to report his experience with Evolution. Besides what he considered a crappy appraisal, Dinsmore also complained of slow service and says that he was pressured to buy a car.

It wasn’t long before Dinsmore was sent a notice from Evolution, which basically called him a liar and demanded he remove the review or face a lawsuit.

This kind of thing has become more and more common. Last November ABC News reported that KlearGear.com fined a Utah couple $3,500 because they wrote a critical online review after a $20 desk ornament was never delivered. KlearGear.com justified this gouging with a “non-disparagement” clause in the fine print of its website. It was later determined by the couple’s attorney that the clause was added after the order was placed.

The previous February, an Arizona woman was sued by an auto-repair company for writing what they called “false statements” in a Yelp review, according to Arizona’s CBS Channel 5.

You may ask yourself how some companies might have the legal power to exercise such immense dick-ishness. The answer lies in the term “defamation.”

Defamation, according to Cornell University Law School, is “any statement, whether written or oral, that injures a third party’s reputation.”

Specifically, written defamation is known as “libel,” which, in order to qualify under that definition must be “injurious to a person’s reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession.”

But then why would any negative review or consumer report ever be allowed? The answer to that is the “fair comment” defense, which basically invokes the First Amendment and is defined by Cornell University as “A statement of opinion (no matter how ludicrous) based on facts which are correctly stated, and which does not allege dishonorable motives on the part of the target of the comment.”

So basically, hyperbole is completely fine as long as the comments made are essentially true. In libel torts, the burden of proof lies with the injured party, so should Evolution take Dinsmore to court, it’ll have to prove that Dinsmore was dishonest in his assessment of the dealership.

In a letter from Evolution Auto’s attorney regarding the matter, the company believed that Dinsmore’s motivation to receive an appraisal for his vehicle was not to receive a fair appraisal, but to get an appraisal so he could take it to a different dealership where he wanted to trade the car in – basically, he wanted to try to get the best deal he could from whomever could provide it. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, Evolution Auto’s attorney says that when Evolution’s mechanic chose to “not conduct a thorough vehicle inspection since such would serve no purpose,” Dinsmore asked for a higher appraisal. When Evolution declined, the letter says, Dinsmore decided to write a bad review. Evolution Auto’s attorney letter can be read in full at WFTV’s website.

Watch the WFTV report on the situation below.

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  • JigglyBits

    There are three sides to every story. Your side, their side, and the truth.

    While the possibility exists that the car dealer uses scumbag tactics, it is (for the cynic) just as easy to believe that the customer is a whiny douche nozzle.

    I love that technology has brought us instant access to almost all of the information in the world at our fingertips. However, the bright shining beacon ends up being blurred when we have to look at it through a smudged up windshield of misinformation. There are people that will eat at a restaurant that is by all accounts a five star boomdiddlyuptious place to eat, and here comes hipsteremosaurus complaining about the nose ring on the punk rock chick waitress. RAWR-one star-RAWR.

    If you flip the coin and look at the dealer’s side of the story, they tried to contact the complainer. If he indeed did avoid them, then the dealer is left with little choice, especially if they think they did nothing wrong. Not to mention, they have to keep the dollah-dollah bills rolling in to support the staff that they are employing.

    The fact is, we will never know the whole truth unless one side comes out and admits that they were wrong (and lets face it, that ain’t going to happen in this case).

    What high pressure tactics were used? Did they push his face down onto the hood of the car and say, “Look, Jerky, you’re gonna buy did ting or what?”

    How long is too long to wait for service? I know a girl that sat in a waiting room to see the doctor for nine hours.

    I think the we are going to see a lot of backlash from wild west of YelpNation that helped create comment-bullies, and normal Jane and John Doe are going to be in shock and awe from the headlines without looking at the whole story.

    The YelpNation was built up as a backlash to the bullying of big business and big media force feeding us things we didn’t want or need.

    It’s time to duck, because the pendulum is swinging.

  • Brian Rewis

    I cannot say for sure what happened here. What I can say is that I bought a car from Evolution Auto a year and a half ago and I have never had such a pleasant experience with any car dealer. I went online and chose my car and they did everything else for me before I arrived. I hopped in and signed the paperwork and left after an hour or so.

    If this story is 100% true then it is not the entire picture of what is going on there.

  • Clay

    Companies should learn after Kleargear lost their lawsuit that you can not do this. All companies get bad reviews, what you do with them is find out what the problem is and rectify it and correct it.

  • JigglyBits

    If the letter that the lawyer representing the company sent to the reporter for WFTV is accurate, finding out what the problem was a problem. The business (according to the lawyer’s letter) made several attempts to contact the customer.

  • Steven Dinsmore

    I know this is late but I would like to set
    the record straight.

    First off I don’t believe I’m a “whiny douche nozzle”.

    As
    for Evolution trying to contact me the only contact I received was a notice
    from UPS stating they couldn’t deliver a package from a lawyer’s office. I then
    received a message on the review website basically calling me a liar and that
    they have enough evidence to prove in court that my statements were false.

    I
    received an email from their lawyer with that letter attached only after
    emailing them first after receiving the notice from UPS. Evolution auto never
    called me or emailed me they only responded to my review after sending the
    letter from their lawyer.

    I
    was not trying to dodge them or anything I even responded to them on the review
    website stating I would edit my review because I was unable to delete it but
    they took that as an admission of guilt.

    Evolution
    auto stated I gave them an incorrect phone number but I did not. I was told by
    Channel 9 that they have my correct phone number and recordings of me calling
    in a year before the incident about selling a different car.

    I
    took the only action I could in this situation Evolution Auto was out to get me
    for whatever reason I was served the weekend before my story aired. They were
    asking for $15,000 in damages. Evolution auto had every intention of pursuing
    this legally,

    As
    for my motivation for the review I was only trying to get the most for my car
    as would any person in my situation. I believe their offer was low and the
    service I received was subpar. The statement they released is false I never spoke
    to the appraiser or asked them to give me more for my car. When I saw the
    amount they offered I knew it was low and immediately left the dealership.

    I
    don’t believe I did anything wrong in this situation, Evolution auto was rude
    to me and acted completely inappropriately in this situation. I have never received
    an apology or even a phone call from them.

    I
    noticed that it’s hard to find any negative reviews for them but no one is
    perfect I believe they use their lawyer to intimidate those who don’t say nice
    things about Evolution auto.

    To
    me they are just a bully and I hope my story has brought awareness to this
    issue.