British Columbia

Vancouver lawyer gets $1 in damages after suing Google Plus ranter

First, a disgruntled former client called Kyla Lee the "worstest lawyer" in a Google Plus post. Then, the B.C. Supreme Court judge tasked with calculating damages in relation to a defamation lawsuit awarded Lee $1 to express disapproval with the decision to sue.

Kyla Lee says she's disappointed with judge's comments that "action should never have been brought"

Vancouver defence lawyer Kyla Lee sued a disgruntled former client who posted a negative review on her Google Plus page. Lee was awarded $1. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

First, a disgruntled former client called her the "worstest lawyer" in a Google Plus post.

Then, a B.C. Supreme Court judge awarded Kyla Lee $1 in damages as a way of expressing her disapproval with Lee's decision to sue for defamation.

But the Vancouver lawyer says she doesn't regret going to court over what she claims was an unfair attack that impacted her business.

"Anybody can write anything about anyone on the internet and there hasn't been much in the way of consequences or in the way of a fair process for people to deal with that," said Lee. 

"We want to try to double down on internet defamation. We want to try to make it fairer for businesses."

'You can't please everyone all the time'

Justice Catherine Murray's brief but pithy decision lands squarely in the nexus between fair comment, online criticism and the reasonable expectations of independent contractors like Lee trying to operate in the internet age.

Lee's primary area of practice is challenging 90-day immediate roadside driving prohibitions. The comment at the heart of the lawsuit was posted on her Google Plus profile page by former client Hoan Nguyen.

The comment was posted on Google Plus by a former client of lawyer Kyla Lee. He was upset when he lost his case and demanded a refund. (The Associated Press)

Nguyen had demanded Lee refund him after he was unsuccessful in appealing his prohibition.

According to Murray's ruling, when she wouldn't pay, he wrote: "anywhere else would be moore helpful. worstest lawyer."

The law firm Lee works with threatened to sue if Nguyen didn't pull the post down. When it wasn't removed, they filed a notice of civil claim for defamation.

Because Nyugen didn't show up to defend himself, Lee won a default judgment — meaning no ruling was made on the actual merits of her claim.

Murray was tasked with assessing damages and costs.

But she also questioned Lee's decision to sue and weighed in on the merits of her claim.

"Business people with Google Plus profiles or the like invite comments from customers. Surely, no one can expect to receive all favourable reports," Murray wrote.

"When choosing a lawyer or other professional or service provider, prospective customers reading such reviews would be naive to think that anyone or any business would receive all positive reports. As the adage goes, you can't please everyone all the time."

'Action should never have been brought'

According to the ruling, Lee claimed calls from clients had dropped in the wake of the post and said potential clients had mentioned the review. She estimated damages at around $15,000.

But Murray said she wasn't given evidence about the decline in business. She also noted that the words were obviously written by a disgruntled client in poor English.

She said while the comments were derogatory, she had her doubts that they amounted to defamation.

The comment was posted by a former client of Kyla Lee's who was upset because he lost an appeal of a roadside prohibition for impaired driving. (CBC)

"I am not satisfied that a reasonable, right thinking person, thoughtful and informed, would accept the post as being accurate," she wrote.

"Nor am I satisfied that it would lower or even impact their estimation of (Lee's) reputation."

Murray also said lawyers should restrain themselves in suing negative reviewers.

"It takes little for them to commence a lawsuit as they are familiar with the law and can represent themselves. Defendants on the other hand are often not so fortunate," Murray wrote.

"In my view, this action should never have been brought."

'Not the worstest ever'

Lee says she has no plans to appeal, but she disagrees with Murray's decision.

As a lawyer, she has argued the constitutionality of B.C.'s roadside driving laws in cases that have helped sculpt the current iteration of the rules. She's also been invited to the House of Commons to speak before the committee on justice and human rights as an expert witness.

She says she doesn't expect positive reviews all the time, particularly in a business like law where loss and victory are as much dependent on the strengths of the case as the skills of the lawyer.

But Lee says having a Google Plus page shouldn't be an invitation to abuse.

"I absolutely respect anybody's right to give a legitimate reason why they're unhappy with a service but to call me the worstest lawyer ever?" she says.

Lee says one of the most frustrating parts of the situation is that even with the default judgment and the pittance of an award, there is no order in place to remove the offending comment.

And one more thing: "I've got to say, I'm not the worstest ever."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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