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socrateaser, Attorney
Category: Business Law
Satisfied Customers: 39048
Experience:  Retired (mostly)
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I need some advice on how to react to a certain website design

Customer Question

I need some advice on how to react to a certain website design company, who I hired to create my website and also update it, that has threatened to sue me on grounds of slander. I recently filed a complaint about them to the BBB and stated that I would file additional complaints with the Department of Commerce and the State Attorney General's Office if they did not transfer my site to another design company.
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Business Law
Expert:  socrateaser replied 6 years ago.
Libel (written defamation) or Slander (oral defamation) requires (1) a reputation injuring statement, (2) of or concerning plaintiff, (3) published to a third party, and (4) causing damages. Addtionally, where the plaintiff is a public figure, or the matter is of public interest, the plaintiff must prove (5) that the statement is false, and (6) that the statement was made with knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for its truth.

As you can probably see, proving defamation is very difficult to do. Many people threaten -- very few actually sue, unless they are celebrities with a very valuable public image to protect.

A complaint to the BBB doesn't necessarily rise to defamation, because if it's based upon opinion, then it's not false. And, since BBB reports are of public interest, the plaintiff must prove that whatever you reported was factually false, and that you knew it was false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

Without knowing exactly what you said, I can't really comment further -- but, it would have to be utter rubbish to permit a defamation action.

Note: do NOT repeat what you said in this forum, because if it is defamatory, then you will have committed a second count of defamation.

Hope this helps.
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Customer: replied 6 years ago.

Thank you for answering my question. I am also curious about one other issue. The business is claiming that I have not paid monthly hosting fees and that they put in $800 worth of custom website design. A couple issues with these claims:

  • There is no written contract between myself and this business. Additionally, up until now, I was never told that I had to pay hosting fees. Again, there is no contract at all.
  • The custom website design they did was never finished. This is partly due to the fact that I had them stop working on it because they were taking forever on it. It had been almost two months and they still had not finished it. This was the point that I told them to stop and that I would be working with a different design company.

Do I owe them anything?

Expert:  socrateaser replied 6 years ago.
The court would want to know why the vendor claims to have done work on your behalf, when you did not authorize it. Since most people do not work for free, the judge is likely to imply that there was some sort of oral contract between you and the website to create and/or modify the website for your purposes -- assuming that the vendor could show that it did in fact do that work.

Even if there was a contract, the vendor would be expected to perform within a reasonable period of time. Reasonableness is generally very fact specific and would include industry customs for similar work.

If the court were to find a contract, it could still discharge your obligation to pay, if the work was never completed and had no value to you in its incomplete form.

I cannot say definitively whether or not you owe them anything, due to the lack of specific facts. But, given what I have just explained, you can probably figure it out yourself.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

I authorized this company to start the redesign of my website; however, there was no written contract. I met with them several times and told them what I wanted to see.


I am not sure what the industry time frame is to complete this redesign, but I can tell you this. It took them about one month to complete my original website. The redesign used my original site and basically dressed it up with a new skin with a few small features added. My point of view is that the redesign shouldn't have taken twice as long as building the original site; it should have taken half as much time.



Expert:  socrateaser replied 6 years ago.
If the vendor's failure to perform has actually cost you business, you could sue them for the lost profits, in addition to obtaining restitution of any out-of-pocket costs.

At this point, this is a small claims court controversy. If the vendor markets its business throughout the USA, then you could sue them in your own county/parish. If the vendor is local to some U.S. State and you found them, rather than they market into your State, then you would have to sue them in the county where their principal place of business is located. If the vendor is outside of the USA, then legal action would likely be a waste of time, unless the vendor is a multinational business, like Verizon or Yahoo, etc. -- because you would never likely collect.

If you want to proceed with a small claims action, send the vendor a "demand" letter requesting whatever you believe your damages are, and providing them with 30 days to pay, and if they don't pay, then sue.

That's really what it boils down to. I seriously doubt that they will be suing you. Reporting a business to the BBB simply does not amount to defamation, unless the statements in the report are utterly false. Your facts just don't suggest anything like that.

Happy Holidays.