Want to know how to burn your eBay business to the ground? Just take a lesson from Med Express, an eBay seller that sued over a review about $1.40 –that turned into nearly $20,000 in legal fees. This is a hard lesson in what not to do when you get negative feedback, and unfortunately, it appears to be too late for Med Express. But the good news is we can learn from their mistakes and avoid a similar fate.
Med Express Lawsuit: The Backstory
Back in 2013, eBay seller Med Express made a small mistake. They accidentally sent an item with insufficient postage. Amy Nicholls, the buyer in South Carolina, received her item from the eBay store, but was frustrated to find she inconveniently had to pay $1.40 postage due upon delivery.
As many customers do, Nicholls left negative feedback on the eBay store page for Med Express. This knocked their rating down to 99.3%, causing the store to lose its Top Rated Seller Plus standing (which could result in a fee increase of thousands of dollars annually). It got under the skin of the store operator.
Med Express responded to the feedback, offering to correct the problem with a reimbursement — and also asked her to remove the negative review. Nicholls refused to take down her feedback, noting that it wasn’t an issue with the small amount of money she was required to pay upon delivery, but the surprise and inconvenience of doing it upon delivery rather than up front in the eBay sale.
Determined to clear the slate and remove her review, Med Express lawyered up. And that’s where things when wrong. Med Express filed a defamation complaint in Ohio state court and moved for a temporary restraining order against eBay to have the review taken down. The temporary restraining order was denied by the trial judge. Nicholls didn’t back down, and instead, got some help from the Public Citizen Litigation Group and found pro bono lawyers.
Interestingly, during the lawsuit, Med Express president Richard Radey took to the Public Citizen blog to issue an open letter of apology. He noted that the customer was never the target of the lawsuit, and that they deeply regret the wording of the lawsuit, which he admits he had not read (despite reading an affidavit that he had). Radey also noted that at that point, he instructed his attorneys to drop the lawsuit.
Public Citizen called out Radey as disingenuous, and pointed out that Med Express has a pattern of abusive lawsuits. Public Citizen also revealed that another customer, Dennis Rogan, was sued by Med Express at the same time.
How Nicholls and Rogan Won Against Med Express
Nicholls and Rogan got pro bono legal help from Tom Haren and Jeffrey Nye. They filed a response and counter claims, and Med Express dismissed its complaint against them. But the story doesn’t end there. Public Citizen came in to push for attorney’s fees on the frivolous lawsuit.
During the sanctions hearing, Radey testified and was caught in a lie: he said he watched the defendants enter detailed seller ratings of 1 in four different categories — which he and his lawyer believed could be litigated as defamation. But eBay pointed out that these statements were not true, and therefore, his testimony was false.
The case was settled, with Med Express’ agreeing that the seller would pay $5,500 in attorney fees on a monthly payment schedule, a reduced amount in exchange for all parties remaining confidential about the settlement. The agreement noted that if they missed a payment, Med Express would be required to pay all of the attorney’s fees (much more than $5,500), and there would be no confidentiality.
Med Express refused to sign the settlement agreement and missed the first payment. There was a second sanctions trial, and though another settlement was developed, Med Express again refused the settlement.
With this refusal, the trial court noted the lawsuit as frivolous and awarded nearly $20,000 in sanctions for attorney fees and expenses. And this all started with a review over $1.40 in postage.
Why Med Express Was Never Going to Win
It’s clear that Med Express’ lawsuit was frivolous from the start. Documents show that Med Express and its lawyer knew that the feedback left by Nicholls was true — but the lawsuit was for libel, which to win, must be against false information.
But ultimately, in filing the lawsuit, Med Express was never really going to “win.” Even if they’d somehow been able to have the feedback removed or changed to positive, the real damage was done when the lawsuit was brought to public attention. Within days, posts from Public Citizen, Popehat, The Volokh Conspiracy, and The Consumerist. It got so bad that Med Express closed its original store and changed its name to Medical Specialists.
Med Express continued to make matters worse when they refused to work with settlements — and that’s how they ended up with nearly $20,000 in their customers’ legal fees.
Consequences for Med Express
Med Express was clearly troubled enough over losing their top seller status to sue over it, but the fallout from the lawsuits has been far worse than the consequences of negative feedback.
Not only has Med Express been ordered to pay nearly $20,000 in legal fees, the business appears to be in jeopardy. The seller’s original eBay store is not open any longer, and its new store is not registered either.
This is, of course, in addition to the long list of bad press Med Express has received for the lawsuit, and that’s not going away any time soon. It’s littered on Google searches for “Med Express eBay” and similar queries.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a seller go into meltdown mode over a simple negative review. KlearGear.com issued a $3,500 fine for a customer who left a bad review, and then had to go on social media lockdown. In 2014, the firm was ordered to pay $306,750 in damages to the couple that left the negative review and suffered credit rating hits.
A Big Lesson in What Not to Do
There are a lot of steps that went wrong here for Med Express. It seems they made an honest postage mistake and then just went off the rails from there.
As we’ve noted many times, it’s usually a very bad idea to sue over an online review. What was once a small ding on your seller rating can turn into a full blown catastrophe, resulting in not just a negative review, but a social media storm, loads of bad press, and potentially, a very costly counter suit.
This is what’s known as the Streisand effect. We’ve seen time and time again that attempting to suppress information online often leads to the exact opposite: attracting far more attention to the information than there would have been otherwise.
Med Express’ negative feedback may have been hurtful, and may have cost the seller in fees for losing a top rated seller status, but if they’d continued on without a lawsuit and simply worked to keep earning higher ratings, they could have recovered in a matter of weeks or months.
Unless you were purchasing medical supplies and happened to be curious about the almost perfect (99%+) rating of the seller, you’d never even see the negative feedback. Now that there’s been a messy lawsuit and public outrage against it, we all know that although this seller can typically be trusted to deliver on eBay sales with at most minor problems, they’re not a company you probably want to do business with. The lawsuit caused far more problems than it would have solved.
How to Deal with Negative Feedback
Everyone gets negative feedback. Even otherwise perfect eBay sellers. Mistakes happen, customers get disappointed. You can fix it and move on, or you can create a catastrophe. Let’s focus on how you can do the former.
If you’re presented with a bad review or negative feedback, take the following steps to attempt to remedy the situation:
- Respond politely, professionally, and apologetically. Offer to correct the problem if one exists.
- Never threaten the customer, get defensive, or intimidate them. Simply start a conversation.
- Get the facts straight and objectively consider the feedback and how it might call for changes in your system. (In Med Express’ case, better postage policies.)
- Leave your side of the story publicly, without pointing blame or becoming whiny or defensive.
- Contact the reviewer directly to make things right if possible — and ask them politely to change their review, noting how much you would be helped by a better review and that you’d appreciate it greatly.
- Move on. If you’ve done what you can to improve the customer relationship, but the negative feedback remains, just let it go. Leave your professional response, and then walk away. Most customers will be able to figure out independently who is “right” in unfair review situations.
- Fight the bad with good. If you can’t remove negative feedback, just get more positive feedback. Renew your efforts to get positive reviews, contacting happy customers that would be delighted to share how much they enjoy your products or services.
Learn more about how you can bounce back from a negative review with our Reputation Management 101 guide: How to Respond to a Bad Review.
Negative feedback hurts, but it’s not something you want to call attention to, particularly with a frivolous lawsuit. The Internet is unforgiving of those who attempt to silence the masses — it’s just a bad idea.
Think you have a genuine case of online defamation? Read our Reputation Management 101 guide: Can You Sue for Online Defamation? to learn more about what online defamation is and when it may be a good idea to pursue legal action.