If you're looking for a case study in how not to respond to a bad Yelp review, here it goes.

Twenty-year-old Lan Cai was driving home from her waitressing job last summer when she was hit by a drunk driver. The resulting multicar collision left her with two broken bones in her back. Having never been in a major accident, Cai enlisted the services of the Tuan A. Khuu law firm of Houston to help her navigate the insurance claim and other aspects of the process.

But according to Cai, the experience turned sour quickly.

In a review she posted on Yelp, the young waitress claimed the lawyers wouldn't respond to her calls or emails, and when they finally did meet with her, "they were very pushy."

 

In a separate Facebook post, Cai also claimed representatives of the firm "came to my house and into my room to talk to me when I was in my underwear."

In an interview with local television station KPRC's news team, Keith Nguyen, one of the attorneys, argued that Cai's disparaging remarks were "half-truths." The firm demanded Cai retract the reviews.

When Cai refused to comply, the firm sued Cai for defamation, seeking between $100,000 and $200,000 in damages.

"No, I don't feel bad at all. I feel sorry for her, because again, I gave her plenty of opportunities to retract and delete her post and she refused," Nguyen told the Houston Press. "She was proud: 'I've got it on Facebook. I've got it on Yelp,' with no remorse."

The Result

Of course, without being there, we don't know what happened in this first part of the story. And plenty of small businesses have reached out to me through the years to detail what they consider unfair reviews on Yelp, which can do real damage.

But it's hard to defend the law firm's decision to sue the waitress and nursing school student for, what she claims, is "more than 100 times" what she has in her bank account.

So, how did the case turn out? As reported by the Houston Press:

Last week, Tuan A. Khuu lost in court and was ordered instead to pay $27,000 in attorneys fees.

"I'm just proud of this young lady for standing up to these people," said Cai's attorney, Michael Fleming. "A lot of other people would have folded and said it's not worth it fighting this law firm--I'll just change the review. But she stood up to them, she did the right thing, and she was successful."

Fleming immediately recognized the lawsuit against Cai as a SLAPP suit--Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Anti-SLAPP laws were passed in Texas several years ago to protect people against bullies who want to silence people's opinions on the Internet in order to hide criticism of their companies or services--to protect people like Cai, or frequent Yelp reviewers.

In the end, it seems the Tuan A. Khuu law firm could have saved itself a lot of time and money by treating the review with a little more emotional intelligence--by reaching out and apologizing, for example.

But it doesn't look like customer service is the firm's specialty. The average rating of the Law Offices of Tuan A. Khuu & Associates is currently one star (based on 92 reviews on Yelp and Google).

As one commenter put it:

"You figured out the hard way how to turn one bad review into many."