SANFORD, Fla. - A Sanford man called Action 9 after he said a car dealership threatened to sue him for posting a bad review online.
Steven Dinsmore claims he only told the truth and didn't think he could be sued for sharing his opinion.
Action 9's Todd Ulrich tracked down the dealer for answers and found many companies are going after consumers who complain online.
Dinsmore wanted his Ford Focus appraised and went to Evolution Auto. But once there, Dinsmore said he got a sales pitch then felt the appraisal was way too low.
“I read the appraisal and it wasn't right," said Dinsmore. "It was like they were lowballing me.”
So Dinsmore wrote a critical review online, claiming he was pressured to buy and another dealer had appraised his car for $1,500 more than Evolution did.
A few weeks later, a letter arrived from Evolution's attorney.
“I couldn't believe it. I was so shocked,” said Dinsmore.
The attorney letter claimed Dinsmore's review contained false statements about delays and sales pressure and another dealer did not give him a higher appraisal.
The three-page attorney letter ended with the promise to ensure the inaccurate post is removed and all damages recovered.
“I'm not intimidated by that because I've done nothing wrong, and I'm not a liar,” said Dinsmore.
Dinsmore called Action 9 and showed Ulrich his Car Max appraisal for $1,500 more, the one Evolution suggested did not exist.
Ulrich went to the dealership for answers but was told to leave the property.
Evolution declined to comment at first but later said there wasn't sales pressure and Dinsmore wanted a high appraisal to buy a car somewhere else, so Evolution did not do a thorough inspection.
The company has an A-minus rating at the Better Business Bureau, but the bureau does have an issue with aggressive attempts to shut down online reviews.
“If the business is strong-arming a consumer when they have a legitimate complaint, we absolutely have concerns about these tactics,” said BBB Vice President Holly Salmon.
“People shouldn't back down if they're in the right,” said Dinsmore.
Evolution's attorney told Action 9 the company still believes the online review was not proper but it will not be filing a lawsuit. He said the company also attempted to call Dinsmore several times before threatening legal action.
Company's Full Response:
I have reviewed this matter with my client. My client reports the following:
1. A detailed appraisal was not provided to Mr. Dinsmore because, when the appraiser made contact with him at the dealership to inquire about prior accidents in which the vehicle was involved, Mr. Dinsmore made it clear that he was not going to sell the car to my client (which is the purpose of seeking the appraisal), but rather wanted an appraisal to use with another dealership. My client’s appraiser then chose to not conduct a thorough vehicle inspection since such would serve no purpose.
2. My client reports that the motivation for the negative review by Mr. Dinsmore was related to the fact that Mr. Dinsmore requested that my client’s appraiser increase the appraisal to $7,000.00 so that Mr. Dinsmore could take the appraisal to the dealership to whom he was trading his vehicle in order to obtain a better deal on his purchase of a replacement vehicle. My client’s appraiser declined to do so despite Mr. Dinsmore’s insistence.
3. Following the posting of the negative review, my client made several attempts to call Mr. Dinsmore. Apparently, Mr. Dinsmore provided an incorrect telephone number, which number was one number different than the telephone number he provided a year ago when he also contacted my client about selling his vehicle. All such telephone calls and attempted calls are documented electronically by my client’s telephone system.
4. When my client could not reach Mr. Dinsmore, my client instructed me to furnish a demand letter to Mr. Dinsmore, describing what my client believed to be inaccurate statements, and requesting that the review be removed. No reply was received by me. Rather, Mr. Dinsmore revised his review to remove the primary offending statements. My client, therefore, reasoned that such statements must have been false, and directed me to initiate litigation against Mr. Dinsmore. At no time did Mr. Dinsmore provide a copy of the appraisal performed by another dealership to my client or to my office to dispute the allegations of my correspondence.
5. Though Mr. Dinsmore’s motivation in posting his review was clearly improper, and despite the fact that he cast my client in a false light as to the level of customer service which they provide, I have encouraged my client to discontinue pursuing any litigation against Mr. Dinsmore. My client has agreed to same.
6. My client provides excellent customer service which is demonstrated by virtually all public reviews, and by the level of success achieved by its dealership since its opening. My client is a good corporate citizen, and conducts business in an open and honest way. The vision of my client’s founder was to provide to the public a nonfranchised late model automobile dealership that sets a standard of customer service that has never been experienced by the public. My client believes that it has achieved this goal, and is understandably very protective of its reputation.
7. Should you continue to believe that this matter is newsworthy, we would request that you fairly portray the circumstances surrounding the action taken by my client. My client thanks you for your consideration in this regard.
Please contact me with any questions on Monday.
Steven R. Kutner, Esquire
Steven R. Kutner, P.A.