A New England moving company tried to block customers from writing negative reviews online and threatened to sue those who did for up to $2,500 per day. Liberty Bell Moving and Storage, Inc., which lists several locations in Maine and New Hampshire, has been accused of using an email address to look like it was from a company attorney to threaten reviewers with libel lawsuits and lawyer fees upwards of $9,500, according to Maine officials.
It is ironic that a company named for an iconic symbol of freedom would be concerned with violating the free speech and other legally entitled rights of consumers, Maine Attorney General Aaron M. Frey said in a statement. I hope that case will remind consumers that no business can require you to waive your right to leave honest reviews of businesses and products. Frey's office settled with Liberty Bell and its owner Kevin Finkenaur after a lawsuit over alleged illegal business practices.
After an AG office investigation, the state of Maine had sued the business over violations of the federal Consumer Review Fairness Act, Maine's Unfair Trade Practices Act, and regulations covering businesses that offer interstate moving services.
The company had offered customers a contract with a clause that said any bad reviews on social media or review sites would be deemed false and defamatory, according to McClatchy News.
Liberty Bell and Finkenaur agreed to pay $125,000 and stop engaging in a number of prohibited business practices under the settlement agreement announced Tuesday. The AG office said in a news release that the company will not use a misleading email address that shows that it is the account of the company's attorney that was used to threaten customers who left negative reviews of the company's services.
The email address was used to deliver threats about lawsuits seeking $2,500 a day, and reimbursement for lawyer fees upwards of $9,500, and warned the company WILL NOT remove the lawsuit if reviews are taken down after a deadline.
The company warned of a defamation fee of $1,000 that would be assessed if the negative reviews are left up, which would be subject to a 2.5% interest rate compounded daily, which will double the amount to $2,000 after 30 days.
The company can no longer require customers to sign an order for service that contains a clause absolving Liberty Bell of all potential claims prior to service a policy that violates Maine law.
The settlement agreement states that Liberty Bell and Finkenaur do not admit or concede that their allegations have merit and expressly deny any wrongdoing or fault but consent to the judgment for the purpose of settlement only and acknowledge that they're waiving their right to contest the state of Maine's allegations.
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