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Homeowner's Web Gripe Draws Contractor Lawsuit

Monica Hammock, with son Max, is being sued by a contractor to whom she gave a bad review.
Monica Hammock, with son Max, is being sued by a contractor to whom she gave a bad review. (By John Kelly -- The Washington Post)

Hammock, who has filed an $83,000 civil lawsuit against Sieber, says her speech is protected by the First Amendment.

"This is my opinion," she said. "I have the right to put my opinion on Angie's List about what the contractor did." She said it's no different from chatting over the fence with a neighbor.

"If he is able to sue, then the value of Angie's List depreciates," Hammock said. "People aren't going to be willing to submit reviews if they could be threatened with a lawsuit."

The same thought has occurred to Angie's List, a for-profit company founded 12 years ago that has 500,000 members, 22,000 in the Washington area. It has been conducting an investigation of SCS. It sent an e-mail warning to its members and yesterday issued a news release announcing a "consumer alert" about the company. It also might help with Hammock and Poole's legal bills.

"The point of the list is for people to share their experiences," said Angie's List founder Angie Hicks. "They should not be intimidated by contractors." Although the online reviews may be unsigned, Hicks says, the company knows which members post them and has safeguards to keep people from unfairly trashing service providers.

Lawyers often say this about libel cases: The truth is an absolute defense.

Hammock says the truth is on her side. She cites the fact that Sieber recognized the anonymous Angie's List posting as hers: "If I didn't put my name, how does he knows it's mine? To me, it's an admission of guilt. All I did was state the facts. It's like he recognized the damage."

Tomorrow: How can consumers protect themselves?


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