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A Cautionary Tale About Venting Frustrations Online

May 1 2018
Civil Litigation - Venting frustrations online

In a recent BC Supreme Court ruling, a BC wedding photographer was awarded $115,000 after enduring months of “vindictive” online reviews by an upset client.

Background

An engaged couple hired a company (the plaintiff) to perform various wedding services. They provided a deposit to the company with the balance due prior to their wedding. After discovering the owner, a wedding photographer, would be unavailable during their wedding – and being unhappy with the pre-wedding photo proofs taken by a different photographer – the couple stopped payment on the post-dated cheque for the balance of their account just before their wedding. The company still fulfilled its obligations under the contract by providing, among other things, a photographer and emcee at the wedding.

 

Online Reprisals

Against that background, from August 2015 to July 2016, the defendant bride published disparaging comments about the plaintiff’s wedding services using various English and Chinese language blogs, forums and social media sites. The posts were numerous, long and scathing.

By May or June 2016, the company had experienced a significant drop in business and, by January 2017, it was out of business. After a small claims trial in September 2017, the bride and groom were ordered to pay the contract price in full. The ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court of BC.

 

Defamation Laws

Canadian law says defamatory words that are made (or published) to others, and which are deemed to be untrue, are actionable and can result in damages payable to the defamed person.

The angry bride’s numerous postings about the wedding service operators included such words and phrases as “extortion”, “fraud”, “scam”, “bait and switch scam”, “dirty tactics”, “lying to consumers”, “contempt of court”, “deceit”, “pervaded justice”, “destroyed evidence” and “use of a secret identity”. All of these were defamatory of the company’s wedding services business.

While the defendant bride claimed she was expressing her own feelings and did not intend to harm the plaintiff’s reputation or business, the court found it persuasive that she used specific labels with the “obvious purpose” of attracting Google searches to her publication and that it was clearly her intention the publication be read by potential clients of the company.

 

“Truth Or Fair Comment”

A common hurdle in defamation cases are the defences of “truth” or “fair comment” that can be raised after a statement has been found to be defamatory.

In this case, the judge described the defendant bride as being motivated by “vindictiveness” and characterized her allegations online as “egregious, accusatory and vitriolic…without regard for whether or not her self-righteous position was correct in fact or in law”. He determined there was no truth to the defamatory statements and that they were not based in fact. Furthermore, even if they had been based in fact, the bride’s malice towards the plaintiff defeated any defence of fair comment.

The court awarded $75,000 in general damages, as well as $15,000 in aggravated damages and $25,000 in punitive damages – all against the bride. The claim against the groom was dismissed.

If you have questions about statements you have made or statements made about you, contact RDM Lawyers LLP to schedule a consultation.

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