We have all had sub-par experiences at a restaurant or hotel, and some of us may have even gone online and left a negative review. What happens when a hotel threatens legal action over your feedback? Katrina Arthur of Indiana saw an additional $350 charge on her debit card after posting a bad review about a hotel, and also received a letter from the hotel’s lawyer, threatening legal action. The Indiana Attorney General’s office caught wind of the charge and legal threat, and fired back with a lawsuit against the hotel itself. The AG claims that a $350 charge would violate the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.
The Abbey Inn & Suites, located in Brown County IN, apparently has a negative review penalty in the fine print of their policies. However, this policy is never shown to the consumer, and they never sign any document with knowledge of this potential charge. The woman left a review after having some cleanliness issues with her hotel room, but there was no one on site to assist and little-to-no customer service. The hotel seems to be trying to protect themselves from damaging online reviews, including anything painting them as “unfair, abusive, or deceptive”. The Attorney General understandably has quite a bit of legal recourse here; Ms. Arthur just wants her $350 back and to raise awareness about negative online reviews.
It is hard to defend the hotel in this scenario; the policy they include seems unlawful, unrealistic, and apparently illegal. Hotels and restaurants must be very vigilant about online reviews, as these have become an important factor in search engine rankings over the last 5-10 years. It is not a stretch to say that negative online reviews can negatively impact a business, but there has to be some gray area. Most reviews, and much of the internet in general, can be viewed as negative, and it is difficult to separate fact from opinion. Either way, this woman deserves her money back and I imagine the hotel will be severely upgrading their customer service shortly.