Inforrm reported on a large number of defamation cases from around the world in 2019. Following my widely read posts on 2017 and 2018 defamation cases, this is my personal selection of the most legally and factually interesting cases from England, Australia and the United States from the past year.
Please add, by way of comments, cases from other jurisdictions which you think should be added.
- Lachaux v Independent Print  UKSC 27
The most important English libel judgment of the year. The UK Supreme Court’s overturning the Court of Appeal on the proper approach to serious harm under section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013 but dismissing the appeal on the facts. The Court made it clear that section 1 had abolished the common law presumption of damage in defamation claims. We had an Inforrm post on the case. Expectedly, the case was widely covered by the legal press with the Press Gazette, Harbottle & Lewis, Matrix Chambers and 5RB commenting.
- Stocker v Stocker  UKSC 17
A determination of meaning following a Facebook post from a divorcee regarding her ex-husband allegedly trying to strangle her. The UK Supreme Court clarified the application of principles in determining the meaning of an allegedly defamatory statement. There was an Inforrm post on the case. Mischon de Reya, Transparency Project and the Justice Gap have commentary.
- Serafin v Malkiewicz  EWCA Civ 852.
The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal against the Judge’s findings on truth, public interest and, in the process, overturned findings of fact. An appeal to the Supreme Court is pending. We had an Inforrm post on the case. See Eversheds Sutherland, Simkins and Law Gazette for other commentary on the case.
- Turley v UNITE the Union & Anor  EWHC 3547 (QB)
A judgment after the trial of the defamation claim brought by former MP Anna Turley’s against Unite the Union and the editor of The Skwawkbox following allegations that she acted dishonestly in joining a part of the Union she was not entitled to. Ms Turley was successful and was awarded damages of £75,000. The Guardian and the BBC commented on the case.
- Geoffrey Rush v Nationwide News  FCA 496
Geoffrey Rush’s successful defamation claim against Nationwide News resulting in an award of damages in the sum of Aus$850,000. There was a report on the BBC news website. The Court documents in relation to this case (including the pending appeal) can be found here.
- Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd v Gayle  NSWCA 172
The jury returned a verdict for Mr Gayle, including a finding that the publications were actuated by malice. The primary judge awarded Mr Gayle compensatory damages of $300,000, but declined to award aggravated damages. The newspapers appealed, contending that the primary judge had erred in refusing to discharge the jury. Mr Gayle cross-appealed on quantum. The appeal and the cross-appeal were dismissed. The Guardian and the BBC have commentary.
- Voller v Nationwide News Pty Ltd;  NSWSC 766
The New South Wales Supreme Court found that social media companies could be considered publishers of comments left by third party users on public Facebook pages. This is of high significance for the imposition of intermediary liability on social media companies. Ashurst and Lexology have provided comment.
- Wagner v Nine Network Australia PL & Ors QSC 284.
A claim by four brothers who ran a quarry over a libel to the effect that they had caused a fatal disaster and then concealed the truth. The jury found that the broadcasts bore defamatory meanings and as there was no other defence the judge assessed damages. The total award was a record total sum of Aus$4 million. We had an Inforrm post on the damages decision. The case was widely covered by The Guardian, ABC, Level 27 Chambers and FC Lawyers.
- Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College, June 2019, Ohio Court of Common Pleas
A libel claim by a local bakery against the college and the dean of students alleged that the business practiced racial profiling. A jury awarded general and exemplary damages of $44 million. There was a discussion of the case in the ABA Journal.
- Musk v Unworth 2:18-CV-8048
A US libel claim over a tweet referring to the plaintiff as “pedo-guy”. The defendant’s arguments on “public figure” failed but the jury rejected the claim, apparently on the basis that the tweet had not referred to the plaintiff by name. We had an Inforrm post on the case. The case was widely reported- see the Guardian, CNBC and the Independent.
Suneet Sharma is a junior legal professional with a particular interest and experience in media, information and privacy law. He is the editor of The Privacy Perspective blog.