Following her defamation win against Bauer Media, Rebel Wilson is now seeking close to $7 million in damages. Wilson’s lawyers claim that the number is “extremely conservative”, while Bauer Media’s legal team says it is “extraordinarily large”. So which is it?
Well, if Wilson were to be awarded $7 million it would comfortably be the largest amount an Australian court has ever awarded in damages for a defamation case, according to The Australian and legal experts who spoke to Crikey. Wilson is seeking $1.2 million for general damages and a further $5.8 million for special damages, both of which may be record-breaking amounts in Australia.
While the amount for general damages is capped at less than $1.2 million, a court is able to go over those restrictions if it is satisfied there is a particular degree of aggravation in the case, or if multiple publications are involved. Wilson’s lawyer, Matthew Collins has told the court there was a degree of aggravation in this case.
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The much larger amount of $5.8 million Wilson is seeking is special damages. The figure is based on the amount Wilson’s legal team argue she lost in income from the movie roles she lost due to Bauer Media.
Though Wilson’s defamation cost may soar well above most, there’s been plenty of high-profile and expensive cases since Australia’s defamation laws became uniform across the states and territories in 2006.
Here are some of the biggest damages findings from courts over the years:
- $105,000 — In 2014, Australia’s first Twitter defamation case to proceed to a full trial resulted in a teacher being awarded $105,000 in damages from her former student.
- $162,000 — The amount awarded in damages to Eddie Obeid when he sued The Sydney Morning Herald in 2006 for articles alleging his corruption. Obeid was later found to be corrupt by NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.
- $200,000 — In 2015, Joe Hockey was awarded $200,000 in a defamation case against Fairfax media. His legal costs for the whole proceeding were estimated to be approximately $800,000
- $200,000 — The amount of damages awarded to Milorad Trkulja in his case against Google in 2012. Trkulja had sued for defamation because his photo appeared in Google image searches alongside images of infamous mobster Tony Mokbel.
- $250,000 — The Herald Sun was ordered to pay $250,000 in damages to a Shepparton strip-club owner in 2016. The owner sued the paper after it claimed she was running a brothel.
- $280,000 — In 2013, 2GB’s Ray Hadley was ordered to pay $280,000 in damages to a woman who he’d referred to as a “grub” while on air.
- $300,000 — A senior executive at the Commonwealth Bank, Brendan French was awarded $300,000 in 2015 following an internet campaign by “consumer-advocate” Michael Fraser.
- $700, 000 — The amount awarded in damages to three WA businessmen against a private detective who posted defamatory statements on his blog.
- $775,000 — The former Queensland Liberal housing minister Dr Bruce Flegg was awarded $775,000 in damages in 2015. Flegg had launched a defamation proceeding against his former media adviser Graeme Hallett, after Flegg alleged Hallett said he was “unfit to hold office” at a press conference.