Defamation – Rebel Wilson’s A$4.5m defamation damages cut to A$600,000

Rebel Wilson, who had previously been awarded the biggest pay-out for defamation in Australian history – A$4.5m – has seen her damages massively reduced on appeal.

Last year’s award in favour of the Australian actor, reported in zoom-in, had followed a unanimous jury verdict at trial that Bauer Media had defamed Wilson by branding her a ‘serial liar’ who ‘fabricated almost every aspect of her life’.

The company had published articles in Woman’s Day magazine claiming Wilson lied about her name, age and childhood so she could make it in Hollywood. As a result, the actress said, she missed out on several prominent film roles and other opportunities in the wake of the success of ‘Pitch Perfect 2’, which came out in May 2015.

In its original decision, the Supreme Court of Victoria awarded her A$650,000 in general damages and $A3.9m in ‘special damages’ for roles she had lost out on.

The size of the original payout had generated discussion in Australia over whether it could stifle future journalism that is in the public interest.

On an appeal by Bauer Media, the judge disallowed the special damages amount entirely, and lowered the general damages amount to A$600,000 (£338,000).

The appeal judge said that Wilson’s evidence was ‘not sufficient,’ and that she was ‘unable to establish there was a causal connection between the defamatory publications for which Bauer was responsible and any loss that was suffered’.

She also rejected the claim that Wilson had suffered economic loss as a result of the articles.

The actor was not present in court as she is filming in Europe, but did tweet ahead of the appeal, pointing out that the verdict itself was not being questioned, only the amount of money paid.

The original judge had explained in his ruling that the sum was intentionally large, saying ‘Unless substantial damages are awarded there is a real risk that the public will not be convinced of the seriousness of the defamation, but will rather wrongly conclude that the articles were trivial or not that serious’.

The Appeal underlines the difficulty in proving economic losses resulting from a particular defamatory publication to the necessary standard, especially in the uncertain world of entertainment.