Bretz RV & Marine has won a $192,500 settlement against a Montana couple who waged a social media campaign to smear the dealership’s reputation after trying to back out of the purchase of a pontoon boat.
President/CEO Mark Bretz said he and his attorneys made sure there was no non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement in the settlement because he had “had enough” of being attacked online for no reason and wants to make sure that word gets out that there are consequences for spreading lies about a business.
“We’ve been in business for 52 years, and you don’t stay in business that long without treating people right,” Bretz told RV PRO in a phone interview Monday. “In just a matter of minutes, a disgruntled customer can really hurt your reputation and leave you with little ability to tell the other side of the story.”
Bretz said that in February 2019, John and Yvonne Gibson of Butte, Mont., signed a purchase agreement and made a $2,000 down payment to buy a ponton boat for $67,438 from the Missoula, Mont., dealership. However, the lawsuit alleges the Gibsons subsequently got “buyer’s remorse”.
According to court documents, after getting home, the Gibsons contacted the dealership and claimed they had found “the exact same” boat in North Carolina for $20,000 less.
In truth, the boat advertised online was a year older, did not include a trailer and had several marked-down discounts for wear and tear because it was a “demonstration model”. The boat also had more than $14,000 less in optional equipment.
In March, after saying they would come to the dealership to take possession of the boat, Yvonne Gibson took to Facebook to make the first of a number of defamatory posts about the Bretz dealership, according to court records. One of her posts invited others to make similar posts if they had bad experiences to report.
On March 21, the Gibsons filed a complaint with the Office of Consumer Protection that court documents say was filled with inaccuracies.
After contacting the buyer numerous times and requesting the removal of the posts, Bretz said he just got tired of being “slandered and blackmailed” and decided to pursue a court case.
Bretz sued for breach of contract and defamation.
“After they realized we were going through with this, they knew it was going to be cheaper for them to settle than to go to trial,” Bretz said.
Details of the settlement between Bretz RV & Marine and John and Yvonne Gibson of Butte, Mont., were finalized in late May. The dealership received the settlement check for $192,500 on June 11.
As part of the settlement, there is no admission of liability by either party.
Bretz also has dealerships in Billings, Mont., and Boise and Nampa, Idaho.
Bretz said this isn’t the first time his dealership has been targeted by such a smear campaign. He said that one such incident involved a customer rounding up some friends to post similar online reviews and social media content saying they had bad experiences with the dealership. Bretz was able to prove that the people making those posts had never been to the dealership.
He said there is always a risk for dealers wishing to pursue cases like this.
“There might not be much of a settlement,” he said. “You take a risk of paying attorney fees and then not getting anything.”
Robert K. Baldwin, with the law firm Goetz, Baldwin & Geddes in Bozeman, Mont., represented Bretz in the lawsuit. In a letter to Bretz dated June 11, Baldwin said, “Obviously, $192,500 is a significant amount of money and should motivate others to think carefully before they make false and harmful statements about Bretz RV.”