Defamation can have a serious impact on the business of professional firms. Rating and review websites makes it easy for disgruntled clients to post damaging false comments about a firm online. Now professional firms can fight back, after the meaning of ‘serious harm’ has been defined by the courts.
Law firm, Brett Wilson LLP, has been granted £10,000 in damages and an injunction barring the publication of a defamatory posting on the ‘Solicitors from Hell’ website. The case was brought against ‘Persons Unknown responsible for the operation and the publication of the website, as the website is run anonymously. Proceedings were served by email, but the defendants did not attend the hearing or defend the claim.
This is the first time that the meaning of ‘serious harm’ has been defined by the courts since the Defamation Act 2013 was passed. The Act changed the law, so that businesses that trade for a profit have to show serious financial loss as a result of defamation. There had been uncertainty about what level of damage was required to bring a successful claim and the level of damages that would be awarded.
The judge, Mr Justice Warby, decided that ‘serious financial harm’ was demonstrated by the withdrawal of instructions from just one prospective client who had read the defamatory comments.
“As a firm specialising in online defamation, we understand how damaging false and defamatory postings on the internet can be,” said Nick Brett, partner, Brett Wilson LLP. “The fact that a defendant is not identifiable should not be a bar to an aggrieved party seeking redress.”
“This decision gives firms the ability to fight back if defamatory comments are published,” said James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professional Risks. “An award of damages means that they can easily prove to new and existing clients that the claims made about them are false.”