Defamation

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
anti-slapp, free speech, lan cai, reviews, texas, tuan a khuu

Companies:
yelp



Houston Law Firm Sues Student With Severe Back Injuries For $200k After She Posts Negative Reviews To Yelp, Facebook

from the lead-attorney-pours-gasoline-on-own-head,-lights-match,-hurls-self-into-nearest dept

A Houston law firm has decided to make its mark on the world much in the same way a rogue house pet makes its mark on an expensive Oriental rug. The Tuan A. Khuu law firm has decided it has "no choice" but to sue a 20-year-old student suffering from two broken bones in her back following a collision with two vehicles -- one of them being the drunk driver who started the chain reaction.

The student (Lan Cai) first met representatives from the Khuu law office in her own bedroom, while still in her underwear.

Cai had never been in a major accident before, and she needed help from the attorneys while navigating insurance and proving her entitlement to damages. But when the attorneys came to her home, entered her bedroom (the attorneys maintain Cai's mother told them to go in) and then ignored her phone calls and emails in the days immediately after Cai signed the contract, she felt like hiring them was a mistake.

The hiring was a mistake. The firing was apparently also a mistake, especially after Cai headed to her Facebook page and Yelp to express her displeasure with Khuu. These negative reviews resulted in multiple calls and emails from the firm threatening legal action if she did not remove the "dispariging (sic)" review. The firm would have "no choice" but to do this, despite really having no legal or rational reason to do so.

Here's the entirety of the "dispariging" review the firm calls defamatory.

After 3 days, they didn't tell me anything about the doctor I needed to go to. I was in a lot of pain. Not only that, they didn't know where the hell my car was! And they came to my house and into my room to talk to me when I was sleeping in my underwear. Seriously, it's super unprofessional! ...I came in to the office to meet with my previous attorney, but he literally ran off.

Khuu attorney Keith Nguyen is the frontmouth for the firm and appears to regret nothing about suing a 20-year-old waitress who's trying to put herself through school. He claims Cai's review left out certain details and skewed others.

For example, when Cai says that her lawyer “literally ran off” when she showed up unannounced, Nguyen concedes he was on his way out the door, but took a moment to explain to her why there were liens on her insurance. The lawyers who went into her room had no idea she was in her underwear and say they were invited in, Nguyen explained. “It puts us in a bad light,” Nguyen said. “I said [to her], You can say that, but you need to add that we were invited. And she never did. She went ahead and wrote more bad things.”

It takes more than a difference in perspective to turn "bad things" into actionable defamatory statements. Nguyen is an attorney and presumably should know this. Nguyen also, presumably, is an inhabitant of this planet and partakes of the internet, so he should know what sort of effect is triggered by baseless legal bullying.

And, as part of the Khuu firm, he should also be aware that Cai isn't an anomaly. Even before the internet backlash kicked in the door of the firm's Yelp page (which now sports a warning from Yelp that it will remove positive/negative reviews that appear to be solely motivated by media coverage of the ongoing debacle), the law office wasn't exactly known for its stellar customer service. Meagan Flynn of the Houston Press points out that the Khuu law offices' Yelp pages are littered with negative reviews.

[G]ood reviews are hard to find, no matter which of the law firm's three locations you search. A guy named Han in Richardson, Texas, wrote, “Duped and filthy legal services. They trap you in their plan and dupe you out for their own goods. Stay away to protect yourself and your family.” A guy named Kevin from Austin: “They like to delay responses and make excuses for not returning calls. Incompetent and unreliable are the words I would use to describe their staff.” Charlie from Houston: “I went in for a 'free consultation' and it became a decision I would soon regret.”

In addition to the inevitable Streisanding, the Khuu law firm has also jabbed a stick into a hornet's nest of lawyers with low tolerance for bullying bullshit. So far, the law office's decision to sue a student for $200,000 has already attracted offers of assistance from Popehat's Ken White, First Amendment Badass (Texas Div.) Mark W. Bennett, and Scott Greenfield, whose undying curmudgeonliness (and undying AOL email address) are perfectly complemented by the number of fucks he gives about jabbing back at stupid attorneys. If this is just the initial response to the Khuu office legal threats, it's time to invest heavily in popcorn futures.

The immediate good news is that Lan Cai is now represented, pro bono, by Houston attorney Michael Fleming. Fleming hopes to flip this bogus lawsuit back on the Khuu law firm by using Texas' anti-SLAPP law -- the Texas Citizens Participation Act -- and extract $50,000 from the firm for the trouble it's caused. He also points out that the firm's reputation was pretty much an open sewage line well before Cai expressed her opinion, so it's unlikely the office can prove yet another negative review caused any actual damage to the firm itself.


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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:59am

    He also points out that the firm's reputation was pretty much an open sewage line well before Cai expressed her opinion, so it's unlikely the office can prove yet another negative review caused any actual damage to the firm itself.

    ...which kind of makes me wonder, why did she go with them in the first place? If I needed representation, I'd do some research, and I'd talk with a friend of mine who's an attorney (who doesn't necessarily specialize in the area I need representation in, but probably knows a bunch of people that do) in order to find someone who'd be likely to do a good job.

    When the concept of lawyers being sleazy by default is such a pervasive part of our culture that we have an entire genre of humor dedicated to it with its own Wikipedia page, even, it seems to me that hiring one without doing any due diligence is essentially akin to walking down a dark alley at night. You may or may not end up having a really bad experience, and if you do, the culpability lies squarely on the person(s) who victimized you, but even so... you really should have known better than to do that in the first place!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:12pm

      Re:

      When you are shaken up and in pain after an accident, and the need for a lawyer is possibly urgent, detailed selection research is not at the top of the list of things to do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:22pm

        Re: Re:

        I would have to agree. I tend to be trusting of professionals in their field. Normally, I do try do my due diligence but sometimes that isn't an option.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 1:09pm

        Re: Re:

        Counterpoint: If it were that urgent, it would be that much more important to get it right.

        In such a case, I would most likely call up my attorney friend and ask him, "if you needed a personal injury lawyer right now, who would you call? Because I need one. Right now." He's a decent enough guy that I'm reasonably confident this would get good results.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 1:47pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          If it were that urgent, it would be that much more important to get it right.

          You are assuming clear thinking, which for many people is very difficult in the aftermath of an accident, especially ion that results in injury. Also, not everyone has people with the relevant experience to call on, and family members, especially parents or children can be badly upset by your accident and not reliable sources of advice.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 2:03pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Having a friend who is an attorney seems to indicate you speak from a position of privilege. As the previous anon says, not everyone knows has friends who are attorneys. I bet the number of 20 year old college students who don't know who to contact in such a scenario who have working attorneys for friends is a very small portion of 20 year old college students.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Mason Wheeler (profile), 3 Aug 2016 @ 7:09am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Having a friend who is an attorney seems to indicate you speak from a position of privilege.

            Not particularly. I just happen to go to church with someone who's an attorney, and both have positions in the congregation where we end up working together a lot.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 3 Aug 2016 @ 8:00am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              You missed the point being made repeatedly to you, I think.

              The point is that by having a friend who is qualified and trustworthy to make such advice places you in a place of privilege over a 20 year old student who has no such friend.

              Judging her from that position is disingenuous, to say nothing of the inevitable shock, pain and vulnerability resulting from the accident. You seem to be trying to blame the victim for making a bad choice, for no other reason than you would personally have better resources to call upon. Bravo. Not everyone's so lucky.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                John Fenderson (profile), 3 Aug 2016 @ 11:05am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I agree. If I didn't engage in business activities, I would not personally know any attorneys whatsoever. Having contacts like that is excellent, but is an advantage that tons of people don't have.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:41pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You have a clear head following a major life changing accident *and* friends you can trust for reliable legal advice? Good for you. Why do you assume the same is true for this girl?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:26pm

      This suggests a good premise of a Hitchcockian movie

      Scorned lawyer down on her luck gets hired by an accident victim who is so sloppy he's begging to be conned. After modest investigation she figures out he's trying to set her up, and hired her on the pretense that she was the sort who'd take advantage of an ignorant client.

      Not saying that's what's going on in Lan Cai's case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 4:31pm

      Re:

      As others have mentioned, many people don't have lawyer friends or a friend who has had need of a lawyer.

      People, often to their detriment, assume that being a member of the bar is some sort of reflection that they are good guys. (My long running most favorite lawyer anecdote - Lawyer in prison for murder for 8 years before the bar moved to disbar him.)

      Guessing that being in extreme pain, most likely on pain killers, that doing a deep dive into people wasn't on the plate.

      While consumers should check them out before signing, shouldn't those charged with providing oversight actually do that job?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        blue skies (profile), 3 Aug 2016 @ 6:12am

        Re: Re:

        I've been in pain and on strong painkillers once. It taught me that you're in no condition to think straight. Like, at all. Most strong painkillers really impacts your ability to think and reason (it's called "being on drugs" by us laypeople for a reason).

        Add to that the aftershock of the accident, and no lawyer in the family or friend circle to ask advice from, and the mistake this young girl made is an easy one to make for anyone in her condition.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:40pm

      Re:

      "...which kind of makes me wonder, why did she go with them in the first place? If I needed representation, I'd do some research"

      A 20 year old student with major physical injuries probably isn't going to be someone who does careful research before contacting someone for legal advice. In fact, the article doesn't mention how they were contacted initially, so they may have been the ones to make the initial contact. Sleazy ambulance chasing, blame them rather than the victim.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris ODonnell (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:19pm

    It doesn't sound like she called them first. Did they show up at her house uninvited, then bully their way into her rom and into a contract? Doped on on Oxycotin or whatever she might have had for pain, would make me question if she was even legally capable of agreeing to contract terms at that moment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:21pm

    Pay per View

    lead-attorney-pours-gasoline-on-own-head,-lights-match

    If only Pay per View would feature such things... I imagine they could make a fortune.

    I also think two fortunes could be made if they could get certain politicians to also entertain us in the same fashion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:39pm

    The Call of Kthulhu?

    Is that the term for the first outreach by this dubious outfit?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    No one, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:48pm

    Here is how it works

    I have a friend that works for a personal injury PI law firm. He is an ex-cop, injury on the job.

    He drives around once a week to all the police departments in the area and gets a copy of every new accident report. At first the departments were so-so with him, but when they found out he was once one of them, they welcomed him and would have a copy of reports waiting.

    He knows how cops write the reports, what to look for, how to spot if someone got hurt and the other person screwed up.

    Those reports that pass first muster he sends on, and the firm sends out a standard letter to them. If they call back and want the firm to get money for them, he is the one sets up an appointment and takes a copy of the standard agreement to them to sign.

    At that point it is up to the lawyers at the firm to follow up.

    No bullies, at least with his firm. They might send a second letter a few weeks later if they get no response. Also no need to bully, if it is a bad case to start with, that is, the facts in the police report show it is going to be hard to prove fault, he doesn't forward those cases.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Scote, 2 Aug 2016 @ 1:59pm

      Re: Here is how it works

      What state is this? I thought "ambulance-chasing* was illegal. That is, lawyers searching out victims of injury and individually soliciting them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 2:25pm

        Re: Re: Here is how it works

        It's not "soliciting", it's "targeted advertising". ;)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 1:11pm

        Re: Re: Here is how it works

        Texas. While "ambulance chasing" is both still illegal in Texas and sanctionable by the state bar, in practice an attorney has to either be utterly public and shameless about it, or other factors have to come into play (live key stealing from clients) before action gets taken.

        If the attorney is sufficiently circumspect and otherwise professional, they can get away with it indefinitely. It sounds like the firm in question is neither.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 1:07pm

    In de haus

    When Techdirt, Popehat, and Simple Justice single you out for your behavior... get the fork out... you're done.

    E

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Norahc, 2 Aug 2016 @ 2:50pm

      Re: In de haus

      I was just thinking we're about due for another epic Randazza response letter, but I doubt this will be the case that provides it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 1:11pm

    "He also points out that the firm's reputation was pretty much an open sewage line well before Cai expressed her opinion, so it's unlikely the office can prove yet another negative review caused any actual damage to the firm itself."

    But if you want to fix your reputation by suing all your many critics you have to start somewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 1:22pm

    Can't get through on the phones. I just want to know if it was worth it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SpaceLifeForm, 2 Aug 2016 @ 2:09pm

    Don't law firms follow legal news?
    Watch them implode ala Prenda.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 3:16pm

    Which department is that?

    from the lead-attorney-pours-gasoline-on-own-head,-lights-match,-hurls-self-into-nearest dept
    Stack overflow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever, 2 Aug 2016 @ 6:36pm

    Ken White got involved?! His presence makes me madly foam at the mouth! And I'm certain Masnick is going to delay this insightful critique in a bid to make me look silly. Oooooooh!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zen (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 7:39pm

    Extreme pain makes it hard to think clearly, what's the lawyers excuse?

    Subject say all that needs to be said.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 5:00am

    She has a right to her opinion, and she has a right to voice said opinion. The government is not allowed to silence her, does this include civil court? Is this a SLAP case?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tony Loro (profile), 3 Aug 2016 @ 8:24am

    their site

    I think you slashdotted them. Or is it Tech-dirtied?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I got gum Joe, 3 Aug 2016 @ 8:37am

    Yeah Baby!

    I like to see two or more lawyers going at it each other more than I like seeing two cats fighting!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymouse Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 11:56am

    A three letter answer: IRS

    I had a difficulty with a law firm multiple billing me for a job. I decided to pay the multiple bills, (I could afford it) but take the whole paper pile to the IRS. An involved third party asked me to wait until the third party talked to the law firm. It got straightened out without me paying anything more what I was contracted for. According to repute, law firms are not on the IRS's "most trusted list". So, if money is changing hands, keep the IRS in mind. But remember, no funny business, the IRS takes a dim view of deceit. (Remember also the state tax authority may be useful.) Tax audits are very expensive!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    GWB, 3 Aug 2016 @ 12:17pm

    Knowing lawyers

    This is why it pays to have legal insurance. Some employers and some insurance/aid groups offer a program of paying a small fee and getting a free consult or two, and access to a probably reputable legal firm when you need it. They usually offer the boilerplate legal stuff (like wills and PoAs and such) for a really low cost or free, as well.
    Look into it *before* you get into a bad situation. (Saved me some big bucks with a rental car issue, when my free consult told me I had the evidence on my side and shouldn't even need a lawyer if the company pursued me - but they were available if I did.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mac, 3 Aug 2016 @ 1:43pm

    How to find a lawyer

    http://www.martindale.com/Home.aspx

    Has anonymously sourced peer review & client ratings

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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