Defamation. How much should you get?

November 29, 2016

In a robust society, free speech (and criticism) are accepted, but sometimes what is said or published about us can give rise to a defamation action in the Court. If the Court does find that you have been defamed, then the issue arises as to what that is worth in monetary terms. An award of money (called “damages”) serves three purposes: it provides reparation for any harm done to your reputation, it provides consolation for your personal distress and it is intended to vindicate your reputation. The Courts accept that can be difficult to assess. The aggrieved person does not have to call witnesses to show that their opinion of him/her was altered. The nature of the defamation can be inferred. The Courts accept that the damage to one’s reputation is really psychological, rather than material. As Justice McHugh said, “It affects the feelings, sense of security, sense of esteem and self perceptions of the person defamed.” Therefore, the sum awarded is regarded as the minimum necessary to signal to the public the vindication of the aggrieved’s reputation.

So every case will depend on its own facts.

A note of caution; when you commence a Court action it is on the public record, so you yourself could be spreading the defamatory statement to people who otherwise would have been none the wiser. Often a written apology can achieve the same end if the defamation was limited.

The above commentary is general and depends on the individual circumstances. It should not be relied on without specific legal advice.