Supreme Court Defamation Case

The following in press release from NSW Supreme Court:

Today the Supreme Court upheld a claim for defamation brought by the plaintiff, Ms Melinda Pedavoli, against the defendant, Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd for damages. In January 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article titled “Female teacher quits top Catholic school after claim of sex with boys”; this was published in the print edition of the Sydney Morning Herald and made available for downloading on the newspaper’s tablet app and on its website, though under a different headline. Through the careless inclusion of incorrect information, the article wrongly identified Ms Pedavoli as the teacher concerned. Although Ms Pedavoli was not named in the article, her age and the subjects she taught were used as descriptors, effectively excluding identification of the correct teacher concerned and unequivocally identifying Ms Pedavoli.

Ms Pedavoli contended that the article conveyed the following defamatory imputations about her:

(a) that she is a sexual predator who used boys at the school at which she taught for her sexual gratification;
(b) that she is a paedophile;
(c) that she committed a criminal offence by having sex with at least two boys at the school at which she taught; or, in the alternative,
(c)(i) that she breached child protection laws by having sex with at least two boys at the school at which she taught;
(d) that she had so seriously misconducted herself as a teacher as to deserve to have her employment terminated by the school at which she taught.

The Court found that except for imputation (b), the imputations pleaded on behalf of Ms Pedavoli were conveyed by the matters complained of.

The only defence relied upon by the defendants was the statutory defence created by s 18 of the Defamation Act 2005 of failure to accept an offer to make amends. The Court rejected the defence.

In assessing damages, the Court considered s 34 of the Defamation Act 2005, the extent of publication and the plaintiff’s hurt to feelings. The Court also considered the matters in aggravation of the plaintiff’s damages.

The Court found that the defamation greatly damaged Ms Pedavoli’s impeccable reputation and caused her immense hurt. The Court assessed the damages recoverable by Ms Pedavoli in the sum of $350,000 and found an entitlement to an award of interest at 3 per cent. The Court is yet to decide the question of costs.