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As reported earlier today by Injury Board Member David Mittlemen, a young Kalamazoo resident has been sued by a towing company because the student created a Facebook page entitled "Kalamazoo Residents Against T&J Towing" (which has attracted 11,000 members since February, 2010). According to the towing company’s attorney, it has lost "upwards of 15 accounts". The towing company’s libel lawsuit seeks $750,000 from the 21 year old student. For those of you who don’t know, truth is an absolute defense to libel. The student alleges that the towing company towed his car from his apartment complex parking lot because he had no permit. The problem, according to the student, is that he did have a permit and the towing company scraped it off to justify towing his vehicle.

After requests to the company got him nowhere, he paid the $118 towing fee and created the Facebook page. Many of the page visitors have voiced similar complaints about the company and the student is fighting back. He has counter-sued the towing company for violating his right to free speech and for violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act. He has retained local counsel, Christopher Vreeland, and renowned Michigan consumer protection attorney, Dani Liblang. These innovative attorneys are now using the Facebook page to identify other dissatisfied towing company clients with hopes of pursuing the counter-complaint as a class action.

Liblang, a friend of mine, says that the company could have avoided all this with a return of the money and an apology. The company owner refused. Other consumers have voiced similar complaints about the company and the Better Business Bureau has fielded 20 complaints in the past 36 months, 17 of which remain unanswered. The Bureau gives the company and "F" rating. The complaints amount to a "pattern", says the Bureau; consumers are alleging that the company tows vehicles that have parking passes or were otherwise legally parked. The company only accepts cash; unless the consumer has exact change, the company keeps the difference, according to the Bureau. Time will tell whether the student gets the apology he seeks or whether the company is able to justify its conduct.

The interesting side note to this story is the power of social media and networking on the Internet. The creation of the Facebook page has attracted national attention. Social networking sites are the marketing tools of the 21st century. Those of us who ignore their communicative powers will do so at their own peril, regardless of the message you seek to communicate.

Recently, I attended the Injury Board Radius of Influence 2010 event in Tampa, Florida. Speaker after speaker provided keen insight and advice on how to effectively utilize these important marketing tools. Marketing professor, Mike Bernacchi, of the University of Detroit says:

"Social networking has put the little guy and the big guy on the same footing and has made everyone accountable."

In addition, effective use of these tools allows smaller companies to compete on a somewhat level playing field with larger companies. Small sized law firms, for instance, can utilize social media outlets, quite inexpensively, and much more professionally than high profile advertising firms. If you are considering or reconsidering your marketing budget for 2010 or 2011, be sure to include a line item or two for "social networking". Attend social networking "how to" events and learn as much as you can about the variety of inexpensive, yet powerful tools available to you. Attend the 2011 Radius of Influence event. You won’t be sorry.

Mark Bello has thirty three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuitfunding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life funding is needed during litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

One Comment

  1. Very interesting, this is the kind of case that will potentially answer some of the questions about what a court will do with this type of issue. The ROI was great and filled with insight.

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