Commercial Litigation News

Defamation in Queensland

 The law of defamation provides protection to a person who has had their reputation wrongfully harmed by another. Whilst actions in defamation are typically pursued by natural persons, in certain circumstances corporations may also have an action in defamation. For more information on when a corporation can pursue an action in defamation, see our article here.

To be successful in establishing a cause of action in defamation, the aggrieved needs to establish three elements, specifically that the allegedly defamatory statement:

  1. identifies them;
  2. has been published; and
  3. is defamatory, that is, it carries a defamatory meaning.

Identification

In order for a person to be defamed they must be sufficiently identified. Sometimes this will be a simple matter, for example, where the aggrieved person has been directly referred to by name. In other situations identification may prove more tricky, such as where the person has not been directly referred to or the defamatory statement relates to a particular group with a number of members, for example a committee or association.

Publication

Defamation only protects a person's reputation from harm in the minds of other persons. It is therefore essential to show that the defamatory matter complained of has been published (whether verbally, visually or in writing) to at least one person other than the aggrieved.

Some examples of how a defamatory statement can be published include:

  1. over the telephone or during a face to face conversation;
  2. a television or radio broadcast;
  3. a letter or written report;
  4. a post on Twitter or Facebook;
  5. a post or comment on a forum or website article.

Defamatory meaning

A statement will be found to carry a defamatory meaning where:

  1. it exposes the person to hatred, contempt or ridicule;
  2. it causes people to shun and avoid them; or
  3. it lowers that person’s estimation by right minded members of the public.

There are three ways that a defamatory meaning can arise, that is:

  1. on the natural and ordinary meaning of the word (where the words themselves, without more, convey a defamatory meaning);
  2. by way of false innuendo (where the defamatory meaning arises from reading between the lines of the words);
  3. by way of true innuendo (where a natural reading of the words give rise to a defamatory meaning to persons who are aware of other matters not in the publication).

Defences

Once an action in defamation has been established, the defendant may attempt to raise defences to the claim. The possible defences available will be discussed in a separate article.

Damages

The maximum amount of general damages in Queensland for a single cause of action for non-economic loss is $355,000 (current as of 1 July 2014, indexed annually).

Limitation period

Unlike most causes of action which typically have a three or six year limitation period, defamation has an extremely short one (1) year limitation period. The limitation period commences on the date of publication of the defamatory statement.

The information contained in this article is general in nature only and should not be relied on. You should always seek legal advice about your individual circumstances.

Posted in: Commercial Litigation News at 12 May 16