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A couple who ruined their wedding photographer's career over a $125 fee must now pay her $1 million

Wedding couple
Khoa vu | Getty Images

Dallas couple Neely and Andrew Moldovan thought they had a legitimate grievance when they complained far and wide about their wedding photographer, Andrea Polito, and what they called her hidden charge of $125. Unfortunately for them, a jury has decided that their photographer's grievance is far greater. The couple must now pay Polito $1.08 million in damages for malicious defamation.

The drama started when, three months after Neely and Andrew got married, they went on local news to complain about Polito, claiming that Polito was holding their wedding photos hostage, the Washington Post reports. As the couple continued to bad-mouth the photographer, their story gained traction, earning pick-ups from other outlets, including the Daily Mail.

"It's heartbreaking, because, you know, these are our memories," Neely, a beauty blogger at It Starts With Coffee, told NBC affiliate KXAS in January 2015, the Post reports.

Thanks to the immense power of social media, the Moldovans' story spread fast. They called Polito a 'scammer' and posted negative reviews. Ultimately, the bad buzz destroyed her career. The photographer was forced to close her studio and effectively shut down her business.

And yet, according to Polito, the hold-up on the photos was preventable. All the Moldovans had to do was choose a cover for their wedding album, fill out a form and pay a $125 fee. The couple had agreed to that charge beforehand.

"She basically didn't read her paperwork or contract," Polito told the Post. "It's in bold in our contract."

After months of trying to work things out with the couple, including offering to absorb the fee, Polito decided to sue in March 2015. And, as of last week, she had won.

The Moldovans can still choose to appeal the verdict, although there's no word from them yet on what they plan to do next.

"We were unhappy with a situation, so we complained like anyone would," they explained in an email to the Post, via a public relations agency claiming to represent the couple. "This court decision tells consumers not to speak up for fear of fat legal bills and painful judgments. If this is the cost of standing up for what's right, we should have given in to start with. But we hope to prevail in the end."

For Polito, though, the verdict is a solid victory. "They know I've won now," she told the Post.

An increasing number of online platforms make it easier than ever for customers to voice their opinions, so it is especially important for small businesses to learn how to deal with negative reviews. Experts recommend keeping your emotions in check and responding calmly and clearly.

"When you do respond to an online review, negative or positive, be civil and professional, and make sure to offer a solution when appropriate," Entrepreneur suggests.

And remember that, even if it hurts, getting negative feedback can be the ultimate compliment. In the long run, it can help you succeed in your career.

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