Sue the Opinions Off ‘Em

If a food critic’s negative review causes a restaurant to lose money, should he be held financially liable? An Australian court thinks so. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, the state High Court in New South Wales ruled that low marks from one of the paper’s restaurant writers constituted defamation. This case was already on appeal, and now it will continue on to the state Supreme Court to determine whether the critic will actually have to shell out for damages, and how much those will be.

Hounds discussed the issue of suits against food reviewers back in February and March, after a writer lost a similar case in an Irish court, and the Herald story mentions one previous successful anticritic suit in Australia. In the English-speaking world, it seems that the only country to let restaurant reviewers say whatever they want is the United States (even though I’ve read plenty of mean-as-hell reviews in British publications). As this scholarly study explains (link opens a PDF file), in the U.S. “it is almost impossible for a restaurant owner to prevail in a defamation suit” because food reviews deal in opinions rather than facts.

But these days, when at least one prominent restaurateur takes negative reviews seriously enough to place a full-page ad in the paper to rebut a critic’s claims, you gotta wonder how long it will be until some smart lawyer brings a winning case against a food reviewer. Or against a website that allows nonprofessional reviewers to trade opinions, for that matter (ahem). It seems that there’s more money in restaurants now than ever before, so there’s probably also more interest in protecting reputations.

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