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Parties Settle Over 'Defamatory' Yelp Review

Sponsored Yelp page for
Advanced Chiropractic Center

Ex-patient Christopher Norberg settled a libel lawsuit brought by his San Francisco-based chiropractor — the result of a negative review Norberg posted on Yelp.

Yelp is a business review site with a strong following of urban-dwellers in major cities, including San Francisco, New York and Boston. It recently expanded to the United Kingdom.

In a 2007 review of Advanced Chiropractic Center — and of plaintiff, Dr. Steven Biegel — Norberg said he expected to be charged $125 for services at the office, but was billed $500 instead. "[Biegel] couldn't give me a straight answer as to why the jump in price," he wrote, adding that he later found "a much better, honest chiropractor."

Dr. Biegel's suit against Norberg marks the first time a Yelp user has been sued for defamation following a negative review, according to MediaPost. The case was resolved late last week through mediation, though it wasn't revealed whether Norberg now owes monetary damages to Biegel.

Some worry the ruling may enable unhappy businesses to sue candid users for negative reviews online. But on his website, Stand Up for Free Speech, Norberg admitted that he "[ignored] Dr. Biegel's initial request to discuss" the offending post, and "should have remained open" to Biegel's concerns — suggesting the settlement may have fallen in the Biegel's favor because he tried making things right and was ultimately rebuffed.

Yelp currently has two listings for Advanced Chiropractic Center — a page for the Valencia Street practice, and for the office in the Financial District. Both destinations are now peppered with user opinion about the outcome of the suit.
"I don't know either party, but I offer congratulations to Dr. Biegel," wrote one Yelper on the Financial District page, writing under the handle Lyn G. "He also deserves the gratitude of all who have been libeled on line, without Yelp allowing any opportunity to respond."

Riffing off the name of Norberg's blog ("Stand Up for Free Speech"), another user, Luke K., added, "Support free speech and avoid the sue happy cracker."

Others were less forgiving of Dr. Biegel's decision to take legal action. "Sueing people for expressing their opinion is a chilling abuse of power more appropriate for the former USSR than for the US and a site like Yelp," wrote James W. on the review page for Biegel's Valencia Street location.

Sherri C. said, "[Based] on the fact that Dr. Biegel decided to use the legal system in order to intimidate a person voicing his opinion, I wouldn't dream of setting foot [in his clinic]."


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