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Think twice before leaving a Google review

Malcolm Campbell, ||

Although Google reviews provide a forum for valuable opinions and criticism, false reviews can result in complex legal battles and it is important to be aware of the principles of defamation.

The case of Tavaloki v Imisides (No 4) [2019] NSWSC 717 explores an incident in which Cynthia Imisides was ordered to pay $530,000 in damages for defaming Sydney based Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon, Dr Kourosh Tavakoli.

The Facts

On 9 February 2017, Dr Tavakoli performed various cosmetic procedures on Ms Imsidies. The claim by the plaintiff, Dr Tavakoli, arose from a Google review posted by Ms Imsidies on 1 September 2017 in which Ms Imsidies alleged that she was charged for a cosmetic procedure which Dr Tavakoli had not performed. Due to this, the rate of visitors to Dr Tavaloki’s website dropped by around 23% in one week.

On 26 November 2018, in contravention of court orders, Mrs Imisidies published a second defamatory Google review.

Prior to this ruling, the defendant’s ex-husband, Mark Imsidies agreed to pay Dr Tavakoli $80,000 in damages due to threats that he would approach the media with claims that Dr Tavakoli was a fraud who didn’t perform procedures that were paid for. Mr Imisides also threatened to set up a website to this effect.

Findings

The Supreme Court of New South Wales held that a publication is considered defamatory if the publication negatively affects a plaintiff’s reputation (Gardiner v John Fairfax & Sons (1942) 42 SR (NSW) 171). The Google review affected the number of enquiries made on Dr Tavakoli’s professional website, which tarnished his reputation as a cosmetic surgeon. In making this assessment, the Court placed itself in the position of an ‘ordinary reasonable reader’ who reads the whole publication, reads between the lines and can therefore consider the imputations that are alleged.

The Outcome

The Court found that the second Google review carried imputations that Dr Tavakoli was incompetent, cruel and a bully. The Court held that the reviews made by Ms Imisidies was defamatory and that her conduct was malicious. Costs were awarded to Dr Tavakoli pursuant to s 40 of the Defamation Act 2005 NSW.

The Court ordered Mrs Imisidies to pay Dr Tavakoli $530,000 for damages for the defamation published.

If you have any questions or concerns relating to any of the information in the blog or you require assistance, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a lawyer in Coleman Greig’s Commercial Advice Team, who would be more than happy to assist you.

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