A lawsuit that could affect how the customer-review site Yelp does business in the future is still alive, thanks to a Santa Clara County judge. The case involves a libel suit filed by a dentist who claims she was defamed in a negative review posted on Yelp. Although Yelp is technically no longer a part of the case, the online site could be significantly affected by it. If the dentist wins the case, it could scare people into no longer writing negative reviews, thereby harming the Yelp business model. Yelp users depend on reviews to get an honest assessment of restaurants and businesses.
The suit was filed by dentist Yvonne Wong after the parents of one of her patients wrote a negative review, saying their 4-year-old son had become lightheaded from laughing gas and that he received a filling containing mercury. The parents, Tia Jing and Jia Ma, had attempted to get the case thrown out, but the judge refused, according to MediaPost.com. Under federal law, Yelp, like other website owners, is exempt from being sued for libel over third-party reviews or comments posted on its site. But if the dentist wins the case, it could not only affect Yelp, but also the general negative tenor of online commenting throughout the Internet.