(Aus) Defamation – Rebel Wilson’s record defamation payout challenged by Australian media companies

Rebel Wilson’s $3.6 million (£2.7 million) defamation payout is to be challenged by a group of Australian media companies.

Last year the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia awarded Wilson the record sum in general, aggravated and special damages after agreeing that she missed out on film roles due to various articles published by Bauer Media which unfairly portrayed her as a serial liar who had faked her way to a Hollywood career.

The award comprised $650,000 in general damages, including aggravated damages, and $3,917,472 in special damages for opportunities of screen roles lost because of the articles. The sum awarded was the largest in Australian history with Justice John Dixon ruling that the actress’s global reputation had been damaged to such an extent that a departure from the rule capping general damages at $389,500 (£220,000) was justified.

Bauer were already appealing the decision when News Corp Australia, Fairfax Media, Macquarie Media, the ABC and the country’s Seven and Nine TV networks sought leave to intervene and join the appeal.

The lawyer for the joint media group said the rare move was triggered by the media’s desire to protect free speech and to keep legal costs from spiralling out of control.

‘The concern is that Justice Dixon found that where aggravated damages are awarded, the damages cap no longer applies.  This sets a precedent because if someone has an aggravated damages claim then they can be given unlimited damages – the sky is the limit’.

He went on to explain ‘Media organisations regularly join forces on matters of extreme public importance. An example of that would be when they band together to fight suppression orders, which regularly happens. But it is rare for media companies to come together in a defamation action.’

After Bauer announced they were appealing the court’s decision, Rebel Wilson expressed her anger on Twitter.

‘Am not surprised that Bauer has decided to appeal the damages amount in my recent defamation case considering their disgusting history,’ she wrote. ‘I am disappointed that this now delays my plans to support Australian charities and Australians in the entertainment industry.’

The Court of Appeal is expected to consider the application on April 18.

Libel claimants in England and Wales frequently seek aggravated damages where they complain about the behaviour of the defendant in publishing the words complained of, or in defending the claim. But awards where aggravated damages, as here, amount to more than 50% of general damages are unheard of, and seem more like so-called “exemplary” damages, intended to punish a defendant for wilfully publishing a libel, which are equally unusual.