Online ratings of doctors, restaurants, hotels etc. can severely prejudice the rated entities. In several rulings the BGH has tried to achieve an equilibrium between the differing interests.
Providers of the rating platforms like Jameda, yelp, etc. are obliged to review ratings upon notice and to mediate between the affected company and the user – which in most cases is anonymous – by conferring with both parties. Once more the German Supreme Court (BGH) now aggravated the standards for rating platform providers with regard to their user’s content.
In a decision dated April 4th, 2017 (Az. VI ZR 123/16) the BGH now even held that the provider of the rating platform will be directly liable, when autonomously changing a reported rating without conferring to the respective user.
The case involved a patient claimed on a rating platform for hospitals that he suffered sepsis which led to a life threatening situation after undergoing surgery in a hospital. The hospital requested the platform to delete the rating. The platform changed the rating by adding parts and deleting parts of a sentence without conferring with the patient. Then the provider informed the hospital about the changes and rejected any further claims.
The hospital sued the provider of the platform for injunctive relief and succeeded in both earlier instances.The BGH confirmed these rulings. By correcting the user’s rating the provider of the platform became responsible for it, by “appropriating” (“Zueigenmachen”) the rating as its own. As the statement was false and unlawful the provider of the platform is obligated as a perpetrator to cease and desist towards the hospital. The right of free speech of the provider of the platform ranked lower than the personality right of the hospital.
This ruling increases potential liability in connection with user ratings. Providers of platforms are advised to not make any changes to reported ratings, contact the author of the rating in any case and request a substantiated statement on content. Further worth noting in this context is a proposed legislation intended to cut back on fake news in social media – which has sparked a controversial public discussion.