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Interior design group loses defamation suit against clients who left bad reviews on Google, design website

Interior design group loses defamation suit against clients who left bad reviews on Google, design website

Source: TODAY
Article Date: 25 Sep 2020
Author: Louisa Tang

A judge ruled that interior design group Fineline had caused delays and defects in renovation work at a couple’s condominium unit, failed to oversee the work and provided inconsistent documentation.

The Fineline group of interior design companies has failed in its attempt to sue a married couple over allegedly defamatory remarks made against it in online reviews.

Mr Koh Shou Wen and Ms Erin Chua had engaged Fineline Unique in 2017 to carry out renovation work at their new condominium apartment in Sembawang.

A few months later, they complained about delays and defects in the work, which included the installation of electrical equipment and cabinets.

They took to Google Reviews and Hometrust, an interior design e-marketplace, to express their unhappiness.

The group took legal action against the couple, saying it had been wrongly accused of being “unreliable, negligent, unprofessional and wholly incompetent” and had suffered losses.

District Judge Lim Wee Ming threw out the defamation lawsuit in June. Mr Koh and Ms Chua have since reposted their reviews after an interim injunction was lifted.

In his grounds of decision issued on Sept 11, the judge accepted the couple’s defence that Fineline had caused delays and defects, failed to oversee the work and provided inconsistent documentation.

Fineline has since appealed against the judge’s decision.

HOW IT BEGAN

Mr Koh and Ms Chua came to know of Fineline through Qanvast, a renovation channel that connects homeowners with interior designers.

The couple decided to engage the company in August 2017 to make and install a toy display cabinet, television console, feature wall, shoe cabinet and wardrobe, as well as set up electrical equipment throughout the unit.

Fineline assigned Mr Aloysius Pek to be their interior designer. 

The couple soon complained that he had “failed to live up to his promises” after they paid their deposit.

They dealt with Mr Pek until February 2018 when they complained about him — specifically that Fineline’s three-dimensional drawings did not match what was discussed earlier.

Another employee Samuel Chong, who had less experience than Mr Pek, took over as their interior designer. Mr Pek later left the firm.

In May 2018, the couple sent a complaint to Qanvast documenting the group’s failure to oversee the renovation.

They said that the employees did not turn up on several occasions and left them to deal with the firm’s subcontractors and carpenters by themselves. Mr Chong also did not take responsibility for several chips and scratches on the flooring, they added.

Mr Koh and Ms Chua left reviews on Google Reviews and Hometrust that included phrases such as “Worst ID (interior designer) experience. Do not be fooled by their honeyed sweet-worded sales tactics”.

Another review read: “Now, after almost seven months of dealing with them, (we) finally realised a lot of things they also cannot make it.”

HAPHAZARD DOCUMENTATION

The couple gave evidence in court on the defects and delays. 

During the trial, Mr Roger Sim, Fineline’s senior project designer, acknowledged that a company error caused the toy display cabinet to be too narrow, with the only solution being to redo it completely.

The couple said that installation of glass in the cabinets went on for months and they had to redo it many times. Neither Mr Sim nor Mr Chong came to oversee the workers.

District Judge Lim said that Mr Sim’s ignorance, as borne out by the non-rectification of a four-inch (10cm) gap behind the wardrobe, pointed to “further evidence of Fineline’s incompetence and negligence”.

The group provided inconsistent documentation as well. The couple’s contract was with Fineline Unique, but the renovation permit was with Fineline Design and the handover form was from Fineline Spacious.

All three firms, along with Fineline Conceptz and Fineline Inspiration, come under the group.

District Judge Lim noted: “The haphazard documentation would have made it unclear to the defendants which of the Fineline companies was working on the project. 

“Although it is open to (Fineline Unique) to tap the support that may be provided by other companies in the Fineline Group, it cannot assign work to these companies and yet shield them from complaints on shortcomings, when they themselves fail to provide clarity on which company is doing the work.”

The couple had also filed a counterclaim against Fineline, with Ms Chua saying that she suffered injuries due to dust or other pollutants when she oversaw Fineline’s workers with her husband.

District Judge Lim rejected this because of a lack of medical evidence.

Copyright 2020 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

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