In Dabrowski v Greeuw (2014) WADC 17, a decision of the District Court of Western Australia, the plaintiff was awarded damages of $12,500 after his estranged spouse was found to have defamed him via a post to Facebook.
Following separation after 20 years of marriage, Ms Greeuw was alleged to have uploaded a post to her private Facebook page which stated:
“… separated from Miro Dabrowski after 18 years of suffering domestic violence and abuse. Now fighting the system to keep my children safe”
The plaintiff husband commenced proceedings in the District Court for defamation, citing the impact of the statement on his employment and standing in the community as a teacher.
To establish defamation, the plaintiff husband had to prove:
- That the words were “published” to persons other than himself;
- That the published matter led to Mr Dabrowski’s standing in the community, or the estimation in which people held him, being lowered as result of reading the published material.
The court was satisfied the post was publically available to any person who accessed Ms Greeuw’s public Facebook page. It was sufficient for Mr Dabrowski to prove that three separate people (one being his brother) had read the post and their view of Mr Dabrowski was affected by it.
Despite arguing the defence of “justification”- that is – if the statement is true it cannot be defamatory – Ms Greeuw was not able to satisfy the court to the requisite standard of the proof of her claims. This was despite the fact that Ms Greeuw had been successful in obtaining an Interim Violence Restraining Order under the State Legislation against Mr Dabrowski at separation.
This case is illustrative of the need to consider what information we put in the public forum particularly following on from what is often an emotional and traumatic breakdown in a personal relationship.