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Rivalries among business owners with similar services or products develop all the time.  For example, Wendy’s and Burger King have been trading barbs on Twitter for a while now. What happens, however, if you take your company rivalry a little bit too far and openly disparage the other company in a way that could be considered defamation?

You could be sued. Business disparagement is a serious matter because it can cause lasting economic damages. Similar to personal defamation claims, a lawsuit would only be successful if the other business owner can prove:

  • You published (via blog, advertisement, social media or some other means) something disparaging about the other business.
  • Your disparaging statements are objectively false.
  • Your statements caused economic damage to the other business.
  • You have no protected privilege that gives you immunity against a lawsuit.

There’s a significant difference between statements that you make that are clearly just opinions and statements that you portray as facts. For example, imagine that you own a pizza business. A rival opens a pizza shop just down the street, and you go around telling everybody who will listen that the other guy uses “inferior ingredients,” without any real specifics. If you say it often enough, that may eventually hurt your opponent’s business. However, it still might not be an actionable offense if your statements are just your opinion. On the other hand, if you tell everyone that your rival is scrounging for toppings from a local grocer’s trash to save a few bucks, that might be actionable.

It’s wise to understand what kind of statements can get you — and your business — into the kind of expensive, time-consuming trouble that results from litigation. That way, you can exercise caution in your actions and try to avoid problems. If you are sued, however, turn to an experienced attorney for help right away.