SEATTLE, July 7, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- The Washington state Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that anonymous online reviewers are entitled to basic First Amendment protections, denying a Florida-based attorney the right to unmask the identity of an anonymous reviewer on her Avvo.com profile. In Thomson v. Doe, the court determined a strong standard needed to be set for protecting consumers' rights to anonymity online. That standard requires that those bringing such lawsuits provide evidence that the criticism within the anonymous comment is actually defamatory.
"Whether they're leaving reviews on Amazon or commenting on an op-ed in their local paper, consumers have a right to protect their anonymity online, and to freely express their opinions on the products and services provided by businesses," said Josh King, General Counsel, Avvo. "This is a developing area of the law, and this case helps set a precedent for consumers' legal rights when expressing themselves online. At Avvo, in order for us to deliver consumers the transparency they've come to expect, we need to protect and provide the ability to comment on the quality and delivery of professional services without fear of a lawsuit from a disgruntled attorney."
The lawsuit stems from negative reviews that appeared on Avvo, Yelp, and Google, related to Tampa-based attorney Deborah Thomson's handling of a client divorce proceeding in September 2013. Thomson filed suit alleging defamation on May 21, 2014 in Hillsborough County, Fla., which eventually led to her seeking a subpoena in Washington state on June 25, 2014 to "unmask" the identity of the critic who had posted on Avvo. A Washington trial court rejected this request on July 28, 2014, and Thomson appealed; she did not seek a subpoena in California, where Yelp and Google are based, which has a strong protective standard.
The court ruling helps set the standard for any disputes involving anonymous speech in Washington. To date, 12 states and the District of Columbia, as well as many federal courts, have adopted similar standards that provide strong First Amendment protections to anonymous online reviewers.
About Avvo, Inc. Avvo is the leading online legal marketplace connecting consumers and lawyers. Avvo offers on-demand, affordable legal advice through Avvo Advisor®, which delivers a highly reviewed lawyer for 15 minutes over the phone - anytime, anywhere - available online or via a free app for iOS devices. In Avvo's Q&A forum, consumers can get their legal questions answered for free by more than 220,000 participating lawyers or search more than 7.2 million previously asked questions and attorney-provided answers. Avvo's lawyer directory provides Avvo-rated profiles, client reviews, and peer endorsements for 97% of all lawyers in the U.S., so consumers can find the lawyer who's right for them. Avvo also helps lawyers grow their businesses with marketing tools and services including the Avvo JD App and Avvo Ignite, a cloud-based marketing platform designed specifically for attorneys. Avvo, Avvo Advisor, Avvo JD App, and Avvo Ignite are trademarks or registered trademarks of Avvo, Inc. Avvo was founded in 2007 and is based in Seattle, WA.