Fawlty Towers fights back

By Legal Eagle

My parents just came back from a holiday in Europe, and were telling me about one of the less salubrious hotel rooms they experienced. Apparently the main problem with this room was the size of the bathroom. The shower was so small it was impossible for a person to raise their arms above their head, and if one wanted to lather one’s self out of the stream of water, one had to step out of the shower altogether.

It was also lucky that my parents are not obese. The room in which the toilet was housed so narrow that a more portly person would have become stuck if they had attempted to sit on the toilet. In fact, it could have been a disaster for the portly person, because the toilet roll had been mostly used, and there was not a spare one available in the room – not only would the portly person be stuck, but he or she would have been stuck without toilet paper.

My parents were contemplating writing a review for a travel website to warn other travellers that this purportedly “four star” hotel was not all it was cracked up to be.

Still, it seems that, as this piece suggests, it’s worth thinking hard before you write a review which is critical:

Travellers who post scathing reviews or comments about hotels or restaurants could be exposing themselves to long and costly legal battles.

Media lawyer David Poulton, from MinterEllison Lawyers, said people making defamatory comments on sites such Tripadvisor and Twitter have little protection from the websites concerned.

He said there had been many cases where restaurant reviewers had been sued for harsh reviews in newspapers and magazines, and amateurs were also vulnerable.

“There’s plenty of cases where what’s been published on the internet has led to defamation proceedings,” Mr Poulton said.

“In cases involving defamation law in some ways the exposure to damages might be the least of their worries because they’re often extremely expensive and time consuming. They can drag on for months, if not years.

“You’re certainly talking about hundreds of thousands in potential legal expenses and damages.

“You will probably find that most of these sites won’t protect you and if they get sued as well, there will probably be terms and conditions that require you to indemnify them.”

You think this is far-fetched? Well, read my post about what happened when Sydney restaurant Coco Roco got an unfavourable review… A majority of the High Court found that the review was defamatory (and overturned the conclusion of the jury on that point).

I think this is a dangerous precedent. If you serve up food which is not to a reviewer’s taste, or your hotel was not to your guest’s liking, what you need to do is listen to the criticism, and see if there is any merit in it.

5 Comments

  1. Posted October 12, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Bad ablutions area design? Try this from businesspundit.

  2. Posted October 12, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    is truth or accuracy any defence?

    if the shower is so small a 5’10” can’t stand up in it and so narrow you can touch both walls with your rude bits then where is the defamation in that?

    Was the defamation in the fact that the pork was dry or in that it was written with a bit of snark?

  3. Posted October 12, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Dave, that’s a tower of FAIL.

One Trackback

  1. By cearta.ie » Don’t mention the hotel on October 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    […] Legal Eagle on SkepticLawyer writes: Fawlty Towers fights back […]

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