Twenty-year-old Lan Cai was half-asleep under the covers, in her underwear, the first time she met the lawyers from the Tuan A. Khuu law firm. And already, they were off to a bad start.
She had just been in a serious car accident while driving home from her job as a server at 1:30 in the morning. A drunk driver hit her, Cai said, and then she was immediately struck by another vehicle that could not avoid a collision. Cai broke two bones in her lower back.
Cai had never been in a major accident before, and she needed help from the attorneys while navigating insurance and proving her entitlement to damages. But when the attorneys came to her home, entered her bedroom (the attorneys maintain Cai's mother told them to go in) and then ignored her phone calls and emails in the days immediately after Cai signed the contract, she felt like hiring them was a mistake.
And she couldn't be more certain after the Tuan A. Khuu law firm of Houston sued her for between $100,000 and $200,000 after she wrote an unfavorable Yelp review and described her bad experience in a Facebook group, as KPRC first reported.
“I feel like they're trying to pull every single penny out of me,” Cai said, “just because I didn't want to be their client.”
The law firm claims what Cai wrote is libelous, meaning the published statements are false and will severely hurt the firm's reputation. Cai says she was simply sharing her opinion after she decided to switch to a new law firm — that way no one else has to make the same mistake she did.
Here's what she wrote on Facebook, in a group called Vietnamese Americans in Houston, that the law firm thinks is defamatory: “After 3 days, they didn't tell me anything about the doctor I needed to go to. I was in a lot of pain. Not only that, they didn't know where the hell my car was! And they came to my house and into my room to talk to me when I was sleeping in my underwear. Seriously, it's super unprofessional! ...I came in to the office to meet with my previous attorney, but he literally ran off.”
Tuan A. Khuu attorney Keith Nguyen saw the post and immediately sent Cai an email, saying, 'It has come to my attention that you have posted some dispariging [sic] words on your Facebook account. ...If you do not remove the post from Facebook and any other social media sites, my office will have no choice but to file suit.”
That's right, no choice but to sue a 20-year-old waitress working six days a week to pay her way through nursing school at Houston Community College, for more than 100 times what she has in her bank account. Asked whether he feels at all bad about this, Nguyen said, “No, I don't feel bad at all. I feel sorry for her, because again, I gave her plenty of opportunities to retract and delete her post and she refused. She was proud: 'I've got it on Facebook. I've got it on Yelp,' with no remorse.”
To be clear, Cai is not the only person who has written a bad review of Tuan A. Khuu. In fact, good reviews are hard to find, no matter which of the law firm's three locations you search. A guy named Han in Richardson, Texas, wrote, “Duped and filthy legal services. They trap you in their plan and dupe you out for their own goods. Stay away to protect yourself and your family.” A guy named Kevin from Austin: “They like to delay responses and make excuses for not returning calls. Incompetent and unreliable are the words I would use to describe their staff.” Charlie from Houston: “I went in for a 'free consultation' and it became a decision I would soon regret.”
So why did Nguyen and company go after Cai? Nguyen said, “We don't mind if someone writes a bad review, as long as it's true.”
He claims Cai's is full of “half-truths.” For example, when Cai says that her lawyer “literally ran off” when she showed up unannounced, Nguyen concedes he was on his way out the door, but took a moment to explain to her why there were liens on her insurance. The lawyers who went into her room had no idea she was in her underwear and say they were invited in, Nguyen explained. “It puts us in a bad light,” Nguyen said. “I said [to her], You can say that, but you need to add that we were invited. And she never did. She went ahead and wrote more bad things.”
Cai took to Yelp and Facebook to warn others that, apparently, if you say something mean about Tuan A. Khuu, the firm will sue you. "I wouldn't even give this law firm a star," she said in reference to Yelp's five-star rating system.
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For now, Cai is planning to take a semester off of school. The car accident, the broken bones, the insurance hounds, the elusive attorneys — and now this defamation lawsuit — are all too much for her to handle alongside a five-day-a-week nursing program and six days of waiting tables. She's still looking for an attorney to represent her, but Cai is concerned about what a loss in court will mean for her future.
Asked whether he might irreparably damage Cai's future, Nguyen said no: “It's not ruining someone's career chances. They need to think before they post...She needs to learn — people need to learn that there are consequences for their actions.”
If she loses, Cai said she'll probably have to drop out altogether.
*See our follow-up story, "Student Sued by Law Firm for Bad Facebook Review Asks Judge to Dismiss Case."