It is not uncommon to hear politicians and high profile members of the public threatening to sue claiming to have been ‘defamed’. Defamation, generally speaking, is where one party sues another because defamatory words concerning that person have be published or made known to others. In Queensland, the law of defamation is governed by both the common law and the Defamation Act 2005 (Qld).
One of the critical aspects to any defamation lawsuit is establishing ‘publication’ of the defamatory remarks, that is, that they have been made known to someone other than the plaintiff. Publication may be to one personally, and that may be enough. Using the internet or other electronic media to post defamatory remarks can have severe consequences for the wrongdoer (the defendant). Recently, the Queensland Court of Appeal awarded two plaintiffs $260,000.00, plus interest and costs in a defamation case (Sierocki & Anor v Klerck & Ors (No 2)  QSC 92). The parties to the litigation were known to each other, with one defendant a former business partner of the plaintiff and the other a former client. The judgment refers to attacks made by the defendants on the plaintiff via websites, including one known as ‘ripoffreport.com’. The Court heard from a computer expert that the defamatory comments would be ‘… almost impossible to remove’, and as such the comments could never, as stated by the Judge, ‘… be truly driven underground’. This was a factor taken into account in awarding the damages. No doubt the size of the award was to vindicate the innocent Plaintiff. It should also be noted that the Defamation Act 2005 provides a mechanism by which a Defendant can offer to make amends early on, and perhaps avoid being sued through an offer to apologise or compensation. The Defendants did not do so in this matter.
Choose your words carefully if you are going online.