Facebook Post Published for 3 Months on Wife's Public Profile Defames Husband - Husband Awarded $12,500
Posted: 12th January 2015
Posted in: News
Posted by: Dean Evans, Partner
What we’ve been warning clients about for some years now – make Facebook and Social Media posts respectfully and with forethought about what a Judge would think if they had to read them – has finally played out in Court.
The result is a clear warning to consult a lawyer about what you should or shouldn’t post to Social Media…..particularly if it refers to your spouse or children or your family law matter directly or indirectly.
The West Australian District Court heard an application for damages for defamation brought by Mr Dabrowski against his former spouse, Ms Greeuw.
Ms Greeuw had posted to her Facebook public profile, a post which read:-
‘separated from Miro Dabrowski after 18 years of suffering domestic violence and abuse. Now fighting the system to keep my children safe’
The post was on Facebook for a very short period – about three (3) months only – before it was removed.
Nevertheless, it was enough time for people to read it and form opinions about Mr Dabrowski having been violence and abusive to his wife and towards children.
The Court found that Mr Dabrowski was a teacher of long standing, with an impressive record in educating students over a 30 year period.
The Judge, in our view, was clearly able to find (and rightly so) that the inferences that Mr Dabrowski had for 18 years subjected his Wife to unacceptable behaviours in the form of abuse/violence and that his children (born to his relationship with her) were in need of protection from him, that the words were defamatory and likely to cause his reputation to be harmed.
The Judge was then required to consider the Wife’s defences of truth (her allegation that what she said was entirely truthful) and justification.
The Judge did not accept the Wife had an appropriate defence and determined her evidence lacked credibility.
The Judge went on to consider what damages were appropriate in a case where a limited circle of people viewed the post. He considered the grapevine effect. He noted that Mr Dabrowski had not claimed for any consequential financial loss but sought vindication, which ought to be the result.
The limited circulation and the lack of consequential financial loss, the award was limited to $12,500 plus costs. The likelihood is certainly that the costs of the action would be a multiple of the $12,500 award, meaning that the Wife’s post will have cost her a significant sum by the time she pays the damages and Mr Dabrowski’s recoverable legal costs.
The decision is a key indicator that Social Media posts need to be circumspect and considered – if in doubt, legal advice should be obtained in relation to what is posted.
It can easily be imagined that if there had been damage to a business reputation or the loss of employment as a result of the Social Media post, the damages award could have been massive.
Given that Mr Dabrowski and the Wife had ongoing family law proceedings underway, whatever property settlement the Wife receives is going to be significantly eroded by the need to pay Mr Dabrowski the damages and the legal costs awarded by Judge Bowden.
A full copy of the Judgment can be viewed here: http://decisions.justice.wa.gov.au/district/disdcsn.nsf/PDFJudgments-WebVw/2014WADC0175/%24FILE/2014WADC0175.pdf