Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hotel Chain Sued Customer on Objective Review

A Canadian hotel is sued a customer for an objective review. That is, the hotel is not disputing the description of the customer's review. However, it filed a $95,000 lawsuit after the customer refused to take down his review.

On the night of 4/26/2013, Laurent Azoulay was awoke midnight by bedbug bites from his room at the Hotel Quebec at 3115 on Avenue des Hotels in Quebec City. Azoulay trapped a few in a glass bottle and took it to the front desk. Azoulay asked for another room. With the hotel full, the manager offered him to be moved to another hotel in the area with a $40 inconvenient fee. Azoulay was not happy, so he wrote a review on the popular traveling site Trip Advisor.

The offending review, which entitled 'bedbugs in our bed' is quoted here:

At first this hotel looks ok....until you wake up in the middle of the night at 3:00AM because you've been scratching all over and realize your bed is infested with BED BUGS!

What a nightmare! When I reported the situation to the managing stuff, there were no emergency to handle the situation because the decision maker was not available during the week end and it was a Saturday.

Instead they offered to transfer my son and I to a hotel nearby where a room was available because they were concerned I was going to cause Mayhem.

They finally offered to investigate the room despite the 4 BED BUGS I had contained in a glass and pictures and videos I had showed them.

I was supposed to stay one more night but instead chose to move to a hotel nearby; turned out to be cleaner-up to date-bigger room- and cheaper rate and that was the Holiday Inn Express down the road at 3145 Avenue de Hotels.

Beware of BEDBUGS! If you are looking for a scratch free night sleep, stay elsewhere, you will be doing you and your loved ones a favour! Trust me...and that's why the Internet is a great tool!

The Hotel Quebec is a member of the chain les Hotels Jaro. The legal threat is counter effective as many potential customers will now have to think again whenever they read any review regarding this chain. We will never know how many people will withhold their negative experience with hotels in the Jaro chain in fear of lawsuits.

Seeing bedbugs have become more often in recent years in major city hotels. However, suing a paid customer for saying so must be the first case.

A larger issue is with the review site. The Trip Advisor is made by customer reviews. The website itself is protected by the DMCA's safe harbor clause. However, if the Trip Advisor does not protect the reviewer even when it was obvious that the review was objective, then readers will not be able to trust their review system.

Readers at the Trip Advisor initiated a discussion. However, many posts had been removed by the official moderators. The moderators used a standardized template referring to 'the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines', without explaining which specific information were removed and why.

An even larger issue is whether one can speak truly about a business online. The Jaro hotel admitted the bedbug problem as reported by Azoulay, but insisted that it was an isolated incident. The lawsuit was about the customer's refusal to take down the negative review, which allegedly hurt the business (rightfully so, by the way). The prospect of the lawsuit is too vague to tell, but in the least it achieved one mission: to threaten any further negative reviewers with an insurmountable legal bill.

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