Keyboard warrior cleared of $357k Facebook damages bill
The state's highest court has set aside a ruling that a keyboard warrior must pay $357,000 in damages for making disparaging Facebook comments about a Brisbane off-road caravan company.
The three judges of the Court of Appeal today unanimously agreed to set aside orders made by District Court Judge Suzanne Sheridan in civil proceedings in November last year, on the grounds that the jury were not properly directed on the correct standard of proof to apply when deciding on author Tracy Leigh's state of mind.
The judges declined to order a new trial.
Judge Sheridan made the orders after a jury in the civil case last year found Ms Leigh, a disability pensioner who moderates a 50,000-strong Facebook group for owners of "lemon" caravans, liable for "injurious falsehood", assessing damages at $357,000.
But Court of Appeal president Walter Sofronoff stated in his reasons handed down today that the jury findings that Ms Leigh maliciously published false statements with the intention to cause financial harm cannot stand and must be set aside.
The jury had previously found Ms Leigh had published false statements online in 2019 saying the caravans were defective, of poor quality, unsafe and overpriced.
She also stated that the caravan company Bruder Expedition, which brought the proceedings, had refused to assist customers and had bullied and threatened customers with the intention of causing financial harm to Bruder.
Ms Leigh was never charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
The jury assessed the damages at $214,000 for one publication and $143,000 for a second publication.
Justice Sofronoff ruled today that Judge Sheridan was "led" into error by Mark Martin QC the barrister for caravan company Bruder Expedition, who opposed Judge Sheridan giving the jury a so-called Briginshaw direction which relates to the standard of proof.
At trial Ms Leigh denied intending to cause Bruder financial harm with her online comments.
She said she set up her website in a bid to help purchasers of defective caravans made by another manufacturer to discuss their concerns.
Ms Leigh, who hails from the southwest of Western Australia, said she had purchased a defective caravan from another manufacturer and not from Bruder.
Speaking outside court Ms Leigh's solicitor Duke Myrteza from Australian Law Partners said the case and appeal had been an "emotional ordeal" for his client.
"She is elated with the decision of the Court of Appeal," Mr Myrteza said.
Ms Leigh told The Courier Mail that the case had been a nightmare and she was grateful for the support of members of her Facebook group.
Originally published as Keyboard warrior cleared of $357k Facebook damages bill