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Trustpilot granted summary judgment in defamation claim by BW Legal

Published:

Photo by Mahosadha Ong on Unsplash

The High Court has today granted summary judgment in favour of Trustpilot A/S in a defamation claim brought by BW Legal Services Limited concerning online reviews.

Trustpilot is an open online platform for consumer reviews.

BW Legal is a law firm providing debt recovery services, primarily in relation to consumer debts. BW Legal commenced defamation proceedings in respect of 20 reviews posted to the Trustpilot Website.

In granting summary judgment, the High Court concluded that BW Legal had no real prospect of establishing that the publication of the reviews had caused, or was likely to cause, serious harm (including serious financial loss) to BW Legal’s reputation, pursuant to s.1 of the Defamation Act 2013. BW Legal had alleged both: (i) that it had, in fact, been caused serious harm by the loss of a chance to bid for a contract for debt recovery services; and (ii) that it was to be inferred that the 20 reviews were likely to cause BW Legal serious harm (including serious financial loss). The High Court rejected both aspects of BW Legal’s case.

The High Court considered that “[t]he main problem with the claimant’s case is causation” in relation to serious harm (§68). In particular:

  • BW Legal’s allegation that the publication of the 20 reviews had caused it to lose a chance to bid for a particular contract for debt recovery services was not supported by the evidence which was available, or which was likely to be available at trial (§§70-73, 75-77).
  • BW Legal’s case was based on “a lost opportunity to tender”. In a ‘loss of chance’ case, a claimant is nonetheless required (under s.1(2) of the Defamation Act 2013) to prove on the balance of probabilities that it suffered serious financial loss, or was likely to do so (§74).
  • The 20 reviews which were the subject of BW Legal’s claim reflected only a small proportion of the reviews of BW Legal (characterised by the Court as “overwhelmingly negative about the way in which the claimant does business”, §65) posted to the Trustpilot Website. Given the volume of reviews published to the Trustpilot Website at the relevant time, the Court regarded it as “improbable that the claimant will be able to show that any loss (or likely loss) it has suffered was caused by a specific publication” (§84). The Court considered that there was “an absence of reality with the claim as put by the claimant”, because “[t]here is nothing that is likely to link the specific reviews complained of with financial loss, in the context of everything else on the defendant’s site” (§86).

Anthony Hudson KC and Tim James-Matthews acted for Trustpilot A/S, instructed by Trustpilot Legal.

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