Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hotel Sues Tripadvisor Over "Dirtiest Hotel" Ranking

WBIR: The owner of a Sevier County (Tennessee) hotel that was named the "dirtiest hotel in America" is suing the website that gave them that distinction.

In a suit filed in Sevier County Circuit Court, Kenneth Seaton, owner of the Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, is seeking $10 million dollars from Tripadvisor.com.

"The defendant published its allegations combining and confederating together with others by maliciously and wrongfully contriving, designing and intending to cause respected customers to lose confidence in the plaintiff," the suit states.

Attorneys allege in court documents TripAdvisor destroyed the hotel's business by false and misleading means. Through the suit, Seaton also calls the review process flawed and inconsistent and that TripAdvisor singled out the Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center.

Glenn Reynolds, a faculty member at University of Tennessee's College of Law says lawsuits like this aren't all that uncommon in part, because they're very difficult to win. It likely falls under Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act, according to Reynolds.

"The basic rule is you're not responsible when you operate a website for stuff that other people post on your site. Like commenters on WBIR or the News-Sentinel website," Reynolds said.

He believes Grand Resort Hotel could have a better chance prosecuting against the individual posters but even then, the hotel would have to prove their claims were false.

"If you sue somebody who says they saw roaches in your hotel room, how do you prove that's false," he said. "The only place where I think there might be an argument is that somehow, by taking that raw data and forming a ranking of which hotels have the most people calling them 'dirty'--- is that TripAdvisor is somehow doing something new and that that list is its own content."

TripAdvisor allows people to post reviews, opinions, and rank hotels and other businesses. In January, they released a survey naming the Grand Resort the dirtiest hotel in the country. According to TripAdvisor, 87% of those who reviewed the Grand Resort recommended against staying there.

Tuesday, 10News sent a crew to the hotel unannounced and a woman who identified herself as the facility's director told our reporter to "pick any room" and she'd grab the key to show its condition. Inside that room, 10News found signs of an aging hotel but nothing that indicated a pest problem, plumbing issues, or any obvious odors that would lead some 70 percent of the reviews on TripAdvisor to be negative.

Seaton accuses Tripadvisor of acting recklessly and with disregard to his right to carry out his business. Expedia, the parent company of TripAdvisor declined comment for this story because of the on-going lawsuit.

Seaton requests a jury hear the case.


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