Business owner Michael Steadman bought a $44 time clock on eBay, but never bargained for the $15,000 lawsuit he faces because his buyer's review ticked off the seller.
Steadman made the purchase in November 2008. But when he saw the shipped goods didn't match the advertisement, he expressed an opinion about the South Florida lawyer who offered the item on the Internet: "Bad seller; he has the ethics of a used car salesman."
That comment about the clock, which Steadman returned to Elliot Miller of Miami Beach, prompted a $15,000 defamation lawsuit. He said the lawsuit has cost him $7,000 in legal bills and his attorney quit because he could no longer afford to pay him.
"I made the mistake of leaving my honest opinion online," said the 49-year-old owner of Triton Welding & Machine Shop. "The comments are there to let other buyers know who they're dealing with."
But, he said, "it's not safe to say anything online. You don't have a freedom of speech. The laws don't work for us. Because I don't have the money to fight them, I'm losing. It's not right. I'm speechless."
According to the lawsuit filed in February 2009 in Miami-Dade County Court, Steadman's feedback ruined Miller's 100 percent rating and "commercial reputation" on the site and, in light of the refund, amounted to defamation.