By Russ and Tiña De Maris
When Australian Tracy Leigh started a Facebook group called Lemon Caravans & RVs, she probably never expected to wind up on the wrong end of a lawsuit. She started the site as a platform for RVers to vent and warn about poor quality RVs from the Land Down Under. The group got popular, with some 47,000 members.
Lemon Caravans allowed its members to discuss problems they had with their RVs, and their misadventures with RV builders in trying to get the problems worked out. Charles Coles was of the same mind. Coles bought a Bruder EXP-6 trailer in 2018 and experienced problems. An Australian company, Bruder builds what it describes as “expedition trailers” for “Global exploration, military, humanitarian & overland enthusiasts.” And Bruder apparently doesn’t take well to criticism.
An unhappy Charles Coles created a website detailing his complaints with his Bruder Expedition trailer, urging potential customers to think twice before buying one. Apparently feeling some heat, Coles took his site down on May 15. A little over a month later, Bruder brought action against Coles for allegedly publishing false statements. But before Coles’ critical site came down, a member of the Lemon Caravans Facebook page spotted it and linked it on a Facebook post. The page’s administrator, Tracy Leigh, commented on it. “I am hoping by showing this to 45,000 members that Bruder might pick up their act. Losing a sale would cost them a fortune,” she wrote, according to a court judgment.
An unhappy manufacturer, Bruder took Leigh to court, charging her with defamation. It asked for – and was granted – an injunction that prevents Leigh from publishing anything else about the company before the case comes to trial, effectively muzzling the self-appointed watchdog.
Interestingly, if you believe the arguments put forth by Bruder, Leigh’s public shaming of the company was actually having an effect. Bruder told the court Ms. Leigh “clearly intends” to cause it financial harm after saying “naming and shaming [is] the best method of getting a rogue trader to the table to negotiate” and “if you don’t comply, you will suffer economic loss.”
Bruder’s testimony before the court in asking for the gag order included the point that a company director got a text message from a potential customer saying that after reading Tracy Leigh’s posts he had decided against buying a Bruder manufactured trailer.
While this whole mess plays out on the other end of the planet, it does make one wonder: Will America’s RV manufacturers follow suit with suits of their own? It’s apparent that commercial publishers who point to poor manufacturing quality and lousy service after a sale is made are perfectly happy to show their displeasure by chopping off advertising with such “offending” publishers. But go after consumers and those who advocate for them?
The industry is proud of their stand in killing off Lemon Law legislation that would protect consumers, so why not take it to a lower level? Only time will tell.