Thursday, April 3, 2014

Car Dealer Sues Customer for Posting Video of Repair on YouTube

Jim Butler Chevrolet, a Fenton, Missouri car dealer, has sued one of its customers, Dwayne Cooney, over a video of Mr. Cooney's car repair which Mr. Cooney posted on YouTube.

Mr. Cooney reportedly took his vehicle to Jim Butler Chevrolet on January 31, 2014 for repair of a key fob, an inoperative air pressure monitor, and an illuminated airbag light. Unbeknownst to anyone at Jim Butler Chevrolet, Mr. Cooney had a dash camera which captured the repair of his vehicle on video.  However, since the video is reportedly on a time loop, the video only captured repairs which occurred on Tuesday, February 4, 2014.

Mr. Cooney was billed 4.5 hours of labor for the repair.  However, Mr. Cooney claims that the repair only took 1 1/2 hours by his camera's clock.  Jim Butler Chevrolet, on the other hand, reportedly claims that the repair took more than 5 hours and that 3.2 hours of work was done on the previous day, Monday, February 3, 2014.  Since there is apparently no video for Monday, February 3, 2014, this is obviously an issue in hot dispute.

Mr. Cooney posted an edited, narrated version of the February 4, 2014 video on YouTube as "Gateway Dash Cam".  You can access Mr. Cooney's video here.  In response, Jim Butler Chevrolet posted its own video on YouTube as "Official Gateway Dash Cam".  You can access Jim Butler Chevrolet's video here.

Brad Sowers, principal at Jim Butler Chevrolet, reportedly claims that he attempted to contact Mr. Cooney when he learned of the video.  However, according to Mr. Sowers, Mr. Cooney wanted to take his complaint to General Motors first.  So, Jim Butler Chevrolet filed suit and sought a restraining order requiring Mr. Cooney to take the video down.  Mr. Cooney was served on February 21, 2014 with the Complaint, and summoned to a hearing on the following Monday.  

Mr. Cooney showed up at the hearing without an attorney and the dealership's request for a temporary restraining order was granted.  Mr. Cooney's homeowners insurance company hired an attorney to represent him and eight days later, the same Judge reversed her decision and removed the temporary restraining order, allowing Mr. Cooney to re-post the video on YouTube.    

So what constitutes free speech under the First Amendment when it comes to videos posted on YouTube?  And where do we draw the line between "chilling" free speech, and protecting a business from unsubstantiated statements by a disgruntled consumer?  The answers are not clear, but with the rising importance of online reviews to businesses like car dealers, and the nationwide accessibility of videos on YouTube, these issues are very likely to be a hot issue in Courts throughout the country in the near future.  So, if you are thinking of posting a video like this on YouTube that could potentially harm a business, and you plan to narrate and edit it, be careful!

Beth Wells
Helping Consumers Get Rid of Lemons, 9 Years Running


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