ABC News' Reema Dutt reports:
“We’re losing our freedom of speech. You can’t tell the truth and say what’s on your mind,” said eBay buyer Michael Steadman, who was slapped with a $15,000 lawsuit over a negative comment he posted after receiving an allegedly defective clock from popular seller Elliot Miller.
“The problem was the clock wasn’t represented properly,” said Steadman, adding that the picture of the product was very misleading. “I was expecting a working clock, and if you read the listing, it sounds like it would work.” Steadman contacted Miller directly, but Miller refused to provide a refund for the $44 clock, claiming that all sales were final.
Miller and his lawyer declined to comment on the lawsuit or Steadman’s claims.
Displeased, Steadman returned the item through PayPal’s buyer protection plan, shipped it back to Miller and left a comment on his profile saying, “Bad seller; he has the ethics of a used car salesman." Steadman says he left the comment in order to warn other buyers to beware when making their purchases.
In response, Miller filed a lawsuit against Steadman, claiming the comment damaged his reputation and his previous 100% eBay satisfaction rating, reports say. In late November, Steadman received Miller’s lawsuit, but ignored it. “This has to be a joke,” said Steadman. But he quickly changed his view after being issued an official subpoena, a court order requiring him to respond to the lawsuit, in February 2009. Since
Steadman’s negative comment, only one other buyer posted a negative review, dropping Miller’s positive feedback rating to 98.5%, still a considerably high rating.
Steadman joined eBay just six months prior to the purchase in order to find better bargains. However, this decision ended up costing him much more. In an effort to avoid paying $15,000 to Miller, Steadman spent $7,000 on lawyer fees for three months, but now he can’t afford to spend any more.
“I have a second mortgage on my house, and I am a new business owner, so I’ve either got to keep the business going or get my attorney fed,” said Steadman. He doesn’t qualify for a court appointed lawyer, so now he is fighting the case himself.
Steadman said this was his sixth and last purchase on eBay. “The judicial system only works if you have money. Whatever happened to being fair?”
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