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Dr Matt Collins QC - Door Tenant
Call: 1999 Silk: 2011

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Wilson v Bauer Media Pty Ltd [2017] VSC 521

Case date: 13/09/2017

Court: Other

Area/s of law: Libel

Barrister/s: Dr Matt Collins QC - Door Tenant

 

Facts

Ms Wilson, a well-known Australian actress, brought a defamation claim against the defendants, publishers of various women’s magazines and websites that published articles alleging that Ms Wilson was a serial liar.  Delivering a verdict on 15 June 2017, the jury held that the publications conveyed defamatory imputations in the terms alleged by Ms Wilson, and rejected the defences of substantial truth and triviality. 

Decision

Dixon J rejected the defence that the publications were protected by qualified privilege under statute or common law.  He awarded Ms Wilson AUS $650,000 in general damages (including aggravated damages) and AUS $3,917,472 in special damages. 

Key points

Dixon J rejected the defendants’ argument that a statutory cap of AUS $389,500 (imposed by s.35 Defamation Act 2005 (Vic)) applied to Ms Wilson’s claim for general damages.  He held that “a court may exceed the cap if, and only if, the court is satisfied that the circumstances of the publication of the defamatory matter to which the proceedings relate are such as to warrant an award of aggravated damages” (at [79]).

He held that the defendants’ conduct did warrant aggravated damages, “from the commission of the tort up until the day of judgment” (at [85]).  The defendants had published information from an unreliable source, that they knew to be false, as part of a campaign against Ms Wilson.  They did so in order to increase profits, and did not care whether Ms Wilson suffered reputational damage as a result (at [90]-[91]).  He found that the defendants “actively published further articles to keep the story in the minds of readers” and that Ms Wilson was “devastated by [the defendants’] campaign style response at a time when she should have been celebrating her success” following the release of a major film (at [132]-[134]).  The defendants’ post-publication conduct was also aggravating (at [385]).

As to special damages, Ms Wilson claimed in respect of lost opportunities to earn income from acting in feature films in the USA between mid-2015 (when the allegations were published) and the end of 2016.  Dixon J was satisfied that, during this period, Ms Wilson had an opportunity to earn income in this way (at [216]), which was lost or detrimentally affected (at [220]).  He was further satisfied that publication of the defendants’ articles “which was initially a very substantial mass media circulation, was ultimately, by the grapevine effect, of an unprecedented scale that cannot be overestimated” (at [237]).  He was satisfied that on the evidence, the publications were a cause of the loss (at [279] and [281]), that such loss was not too remote from the acts of publication (at [293]) and that it was quantifiable (at [295]). 

Dr Matt Collins QC (instructed by Corrs Chambers Westgarth) was leading counsel for Ms Wilson.

 

The judgment is available here.

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