BIGFOOT ON THE STRIP LAWSUIT ILLUSTRATES NEED FOR ANTI-SLAPP LAWS
A Branson, Missouri attraction called “Bigfoot on the Strip” is suing a Kansas farmer and his daughter over an unflattering review the farmer posted on TripAdvisor. According to its website, Bigfoot on the Strip is an amusement park that a “variety of attractions, all themed around Bigfoot (as in Sasquatch).” It includes a working Scottish Highland Cattle Farm, through which patrons can ride on a Safari vehicle.
Randy Winchester and his daughter visited the attraction while in Branson. Upon returning home to Kansas, Mr. Winchester posted this review on TripAdviser:
“We did the Bigfoot Safari tour as part of a large group. The $10 price tag is about right for what we got. Basically a tour through some pretty rugged country on some pretty narrow roads. They promote the fact they have the largest herd of Highland cows in the Midwest. You spend about 5-10 minutes feeding them range cubes at the beginning of the tour, and see maybe 10 of the cows. Then it’s off into the hills you go with a guide telling some pretty fanciful tales along the way. All in all a decent experience but had we paid more than the $10 I would have been disappointed.
All in all, not too bad. I don’t ever intend to go to Branson, have immediate plans to visit Branson, but if I did, this review wouldn’t make me avoid Bigfoot on the Strip. (Although, I am more of Dinosaur Golf guy myself). But it appears the folk at Bigfoot have pretty thin skin. According to an updated review from Mr. Winchester, his original posting led to calls and e-mails from the Bigfoot folks:
“Since posting the above review, a person identifying himself as an owner of Bigfoot on the Strip has called my daughter on her cellphone repeatedly, has contacted my daughter by email, has tried to call my home phone at 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday, has attempted to contact me by email, and has contacted the person who coordinated our tour, to complain about my original review. The ‘owner’ has also advised my daughter by email that he and his partners would likely be suing both of us.
“I have significant reservations regarding any business run by someone who seems to think it is an acceptable business practice to contact family members and associates of a reviewer because they seem to be unhappy with a review. Consequently, I am changing my three-star review to one star.”
Quite honestly, one star seems generous under the circumstances. But in keeping with their hyper sensitive approach, the Bigfoot folks have now filed a defamation lawsuit in Taney County, Missouri. It claims Winchester’s review was a product of “evil motive” and exposed the park to “contempt and ridicule.” The Bigfoot folks are making the mistake that a lot of defamation plaintiffs make – assuming that being mad about a review gives them a cause of action. It doesn’t. And unless the Bigfoot folks can prove that Winchester made a false statement of fact, as opposed to merely sharing an opinion, the big foot of the law is likely to boot their case out of court.
As well it should. But that isn’t enough. The Bigfoot case is exactly the kind of pleading that anti-SLAPP legislation would help deter. Anti-SLAPP laws address SLAPP suits – “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation.” The law gives victims of defamation suits that get filed for no reason other than to shut down legitimate criticism a tool for getting the case dismissed before the costs start escalating. And it gives the victim the right to recover the lawyer fees incurred in doing so. Currently, the Ohio Senate is considering Senate Bill 206, which would give Ohio citizens this type of relief. I testified in support of the bill yesterday. You can read my testimony and the testimony of several others here.
The anti-SLAPP bill is well written and long overdue. If you happen to talk to a state legislator, urge them to pass it.