Libel Coverage for Online Reviews

how libel for online reviews works

Ask ERIE: I sometimes post online reviews of products and services. Am I covered under my homeowners or renters policy if someone accuses me of libel?

From websites that collect reviews like Yelp to retailer websites that regularly solicit product reviews to social media sites like Facebook®, online reviews have exploded in popularity. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a massage, a restaurant meal or a new car—there is no shortage of places in the digital world where you can share your opinions.

Yet one potential consequence of posting a negative review may be an accusation of libel. Libel is any false written statement that is negative in nature and can give others an unfavorable impression of a person, business or organization.

The issue is gaining new awareness as non-disparagement clauses become more common. These contractual clauses allow business owners to retaliate against individuals who post negative online reviews about their business. As this clip from Today illustrates, some businesses have even charged individuals responsible for negative online reviews.

Many business, homeowners and renters policies provide coverage for libel.  Yet whether that coverage kicks in depends on the specific circumstances of each case. (For instance, policies often exclude statements that are knowingly or intentionally false.) Statements made in the context of a business pursuit are also often excluded from coverage under a personal policy, but coverage may be available under a commercial policy.

An insurer will also consider when the statement was made. Statements made before the policy went into effect are almost always excluded from coverage.

“Because of the social media explosion there are many more opportunities to ‘wrong’ someone than ever before,” says Terry McConnell, vice president, Personal Lines Underwriting, at Erie Insurance. “Yet with so much commentary on social media, there may be a higher tolerance level before someone may be considered hurt enough to accuse someone of libel.”

Learn more about libel coverage by speaking with an insurance professional like an Erie Insurance agent.


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