News that actress Rebel Wilson’s defamation damages have been slashed on appeal have given hope to business leaders concerned about facing the prospect of massive damages payouts.
In her original defamation case against Bauer Media, the Australian actress was awarded a total of $4,749,920.60 in damages.
However the magazine publisher — which publishes iconic brands including Woman’s Day, TV Week, Australian Geographic and Cosmopolitan, among others — successfully appealed against the monster damages bill.
The Supreme Court of Victoria’s Court of Appeal slashed the damages payout to just one-eight its original size. In doing so, it waived the more than $3.9 million in damages for economic loss and cut the remaining payout, taking Bauer Media’s liabilities to just $600,000.
“The jury’s findings were not challenged by Bauer on the appeal,” the court noted in handing down its final verdict.
“The appeal was restricted to the award of damages which, as required by the Defamation Act 2005, were assessed by the trial judge after the jury had delivered its verdict.”
In making its decision, the Court of Appeal found that “for a considerable number of reasons, the critical inferences drawn by the judge could not be upheld. It followed that the judge’s award of damages for economic loss had to be set aside.
“Further, there was no basis in the evidence for making any award of damages for economic loss.”
The issues of interest and costs are yet to be finalised by the court.
Lawyers for Ms Wilson said they were not in a position to comment at this time.
While it was a media business at the heart of the defamation claim, SMEs have been warned that any industry is open to defamation action, particularly when considering the use of social media.
“If it’s posted on Facebook, if it’s tweeted, if it’s a comment on LinkedIn — it’s publishing. So the statement has been published, which then brings it within the confines of the Defamation Acts around Australia,” Mark Gardiner of Teddington Legal previously told My Business.
Defamation claims have become increasingly problematic for SMEs, with lawyers familiar with this area of the law providing advice on how to respond to a defamation claim.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.