Will Australian court case embolden U.S. RV industry to go after critics?

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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.

Tracy Leigh on facebook.com

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.

##RVT907

 


11 COMMENTS

  1. If the manufacturers are allowed to silence the public outing of their crappy products, what’s next, dealers too such as Mr. Lemonis and his world of camping bringing suit for someone posting on a forum such as iRV2 about terrible service they received at a given dealership?

  2. Tracy Leigh’s main problem in this is that she got into product naming. That in every possible case set you up for a potential lawsuit, if the claimant wishes to pursue – and nany will today, every when they are dead in the water, over whelmed with negative provable evidence to prove the accuser correct. Courts today almost always weigh in favor of the company being slandered or having their business negatively impacted. same with taking sides in social issues, have your opinion but leave the names out. Often today you need a lawyer to make certain your statement is not going to offend or cause damage to someone. Good point. A lady of color walked into a restaurant in Vancouver Canada some years ago, and because she was an albino, claimed their signature beer -Albino Rhino offended her. She won “unspecified damages”from the company. It nuts out there!

  3. I belong to private RV discussion forums, not public ones, where problems and solutions are constantly discussed. Plus RV brand, make and models are bashed often. Dealers are not welcomed in those forums hence they are banned from entering. I was a member of iRV2.com which is public but was eventually banned for telling people the truth. There is life after iRV2.com

  4. I believe you will find hundreds of examples where consumer product manufacturers have stopped an owner with posting data on social media with the mere threat of a lawsuit. Some owners seem to think they can embellish or out right lie about a problem without repercussions….most recently an owner indicated they had severe water leaks throughout their RV…”destroying carpet, flooring and flooring.” The OEM, under their warranty, examined the unit and found one leak under the kitchen sink that allowed 6 ounces of water every 24 hours to leak. Nothing was ruined. Upon completion, the OEM required the owner to sign an agreement admitting they had misrepresented the issue.

  5. Classic example of what is known as a SLAP lawsuit. The company has the deep pockets to bring the suit, and you the individual, has to fork out all the legal fees to defend yourself.

  6. I am not sure how that would play out in the USA. We do have something here called the Constitution, which enables our right to free speech. Having said that, if a consumer encounters a problem with an RV and the Dealer or the Manufacture, refuse to address the problem, we have a right, under the First Amendment, to voice our frustrations to the public. As long as you are being truthful with your discussion and not slandering or defaming a company with lies, I do not believe that it would be the same here.

    • I was gonna mention that. Our 1st Amendment is the corner stone to our American Lifestyle.

      And unless you make an unsubstantiated or untruthful statement about someone or something, you will be protected under the 1st Amendment. But of course you can always be challenged in court, which will cost you allot of money in attorneys fees.

      As an example: I was threatened many years ago for posting information on an RV we owned, that it was a basic piece of Junk! Apparently, it was causing great pain for this manufacturer and subsequently I received a letter in the mail, telling me to cease and desist and remove my comments from my Forum, or face a Lawsuit. I immediately removed my comments and no further action was taken.

      So, it is possible to have your 1st Amendment Rights trampled on!

      • This is true , Jeff. The costs incurred by the consumer, on their way to a 1st Amendment verdict, even in their favor, can be outrageous. Large organizations have the resources to drag out litigation indefinitely, so even if the consumer wins the case, he or she can still lose.

        • .Bill T. Should be WILL lose not “can still lose” Your chances of winning the battle are slim and none. You’d have to go a long distance to find anyone who fought this bunch and won. I did though. We bought a new 26 foot class C, that had 42 true faults in it 6 of which were safety related. Once I found this piece of crap to be what it was I immediately set about documented it as if preparing a court document. I asked for nothing but to give me my money back. After presenting them with the material I had gathered, they did just that. The vehicle had been the victim of an angry factory worker, set of “getting back” to the company. I became his victim. To the companies credit along with the dealer we were able to keep the matter out of the courts. I was prepared to fight regardless of cost. Not many are able to follow through, which I completely understand.

    • Ed D. I’d sure not wish anyone spending the time and money to put that first amendment to the test fighting an industry with pockets lined with million dollar bills. WEhave to suck it up, unless we are willing to go to the wall for the cause and take them on. One of the major problems is that nobody, seems to give a dam about this until THEY fall victim then find they themselves are out inthecold fending for themselves. Sad!!

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