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Lawsuit against Colorado Springs woman over review left online heads to Court of Appeals

Woman claims she left honest feedback; Business alleges defamation
Local business files lawsuit
Posted at 5:55 PM, Apr 20, 2022

COLORADO SPRINGS — When you have a good or bad experience with a business, some of you may decide to post a review on public sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook.

However, what you write in a review can land you in a courtroom and at the center of a defamation case.

A few months ago, News 5 Investigates talked with Liz Tibbetts, a Colorado Springs woman who left a negative review against a heating and plumbing company she contacted for repair work.

Through its legal counsel, Smith Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electrical sent this notice asking Liz to remove the review and pay for damages or face legal action.

Liz refused to take down the review and since our December 2021 report, we learned the business has filed a lawsuit.

When we met with Liz last year, she showed us an estimate she says she received for more than $20,000.

Liz Tibbetts
Liz Tibbetts talking with chief investigative reporter Eric Ross

“They definitely made the repairs sound like they were dire," Liz told News 5.

She claims the cost seemed high to her---so she got a second opinion.

She says another company provided her with two different A/C and furnace estimates which came in at a fraction of the cost.

Upset with the price difference between companies, she decided to write a negative review on Facebook.

Online review Liz posted
Online review Liz posted on Facebook

In the review, she claims Smith Plumbing and Heating "tried to charge $23,000 for $10,000 in work" and stated, "they really tried to take advantage of this single parent."

James Barber serves as general legal counsel and VP of Operations for Smith Plumbing and Heating.

He calls Liz' review "defamatory."

"It's honest negative feedback," Liz says.

Barber disagrees and says her review tarnishes the company's reputation.

“This is a reputable company that takes care of customers, cares for its customers and the customers reciprocate by coming back," Barber said in our original report.

Barber explained that Liz' online review questioning the price discrepancy is not an "apples to apples" comparison---claiming both companies in question provided estimates for different equipment, work, and warranties.

"What she wrote was patently untrue in terms of comparing estimates that are not comparable and then accusing a company of basically being predators and taking advantage monetarily of single mothers.”

Liz says she stands by her review and maintains the feedback she left online is honest.

She's now represented by attorney Ian Speir.

"Her review was honest, truthful, and an expression of her opinion, and she was nevertheless being threatened with liability and potentially being punished for it," he said.

Speir says he handles a lot of First Amendment cases and believes this one should be dismissed under Colorado's Anti-SLAPP law which took effect in 2019.

"It allows defendants to file a special motion to dismiss claims arising from the exercise of their rights of petition or free speech in connection with a public issue," the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press stated on its website.

A judge has denied the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and because of ANTI-SLAPP law statutes, the case is now being appealed at the Colorado Court of Appeals.

"The order granting or denying the special motion to dismiss is immediately appealable to the Colorado Court of Appeals," the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said.

Spier says this process will likely take several months before it's heard.

News 5 will continue tracking this case and will report on new developments as they become available.