Thick dirt in a bathtub. Boarded-up windows. Ripped, bloody bedspreads. This Tennessee hotel was deemed America’s dirtiest in 2011 after TripAdvisor reviewers gave it a few retch-inducing flaws. That ranking caused irreparable damage to the hotel’s business and reputation, its owner argued. Too bad he can’t sue.
A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday owner Kenneth Seaton has no defamation case against TripAdvisor—because the ranking holds about as much weight as an online listicle called “Potato Potato Potato.”
Seaton claimed in his $10 million lawsuit that TripAdvisor’s ranking of his Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, which has since closed, stemmed from flawed ratings relying on “unsubstantiated rumors.” TripAdvisor claimed it determined the ranking based on how guests rated the hotel for cleanliness, Reuters reported.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, upholding an Aug. 2012 district court ruling, deemed that travelers would not reasonably believe it is the filthiest hotel in the country.
“Even the most careless reader must have perceived that ‘dirtiest’ is simply an exaggeration and that Grand Resort is not, literally, the dirtiest hotel in the United States,” Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore said.
The tone of the list, based on reader comments, was more entertaining than factual, said Moore. She equated it to a poll calling Tom Hanks the most trustworthy person in the U.S. and suggested such online lists are opinion, not fact.
The hotel closed in November and was sold, according to reports. One reviewer claimed a bank took ownership. However, it’s still listed on TripAdvisor, where 226 of the 321 reviews rate it as “terrible.”
The appeals court also claimed website operators “deserve broad protection from lawsuits over reader-generated reviews,” Reuters noted.
“It is a victory for online review sites by letting them not only publish user comments but also draw conclusions,” Jeffrey Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard University, told Reuters. “This helps journalists and researchers who work with user-submitted data to inform the public.”
Photo via TripAdvisor