The Australian actor Rebel Wilson has been awarded more than $4.5m in damages, plus interest and court costs, in her libel case against Bauer Media.
The defamation payment is the largest in Australian legal history, according to Wilson’s lawyer.
In June a six-person jury found in favour of Wilson’s claim against the publisher of Woman’s Day and the Australian Women’s Weekly.
The jury had been asked to consider 40 questions and eight claims of defamation relating to a series of articles accusing Wilson of being a serial liar about her age, real name and childhood.
At the supreme court in Melbourne on Wednesday, Justice John Dixon said the damages suffered by Wilson warranted a “substantial” payment and awarded the actor $4,567,472. Interest and costs would be determined at a later date.
The award comprised $650,000 in general damages, including aggravated damages, and $3,917,472 in special damages for opportunities of screen roles lost because of the articles.
“The extent of the publication of the defamatory imputations was unprecedented in defamation litigation in this country”, said Dixon, because of the instantaneous distribution of the claims across the internet at the time when international media was highly focused on Wilson’s success following the release of Pitch Perfect 2.
“At trial and in the full media glare Bauer Media attempted to characterise its articles as true, trivial, or not likely to be taken seriously.
“The jury’s verdict established Bauer Media’s publications had branded Ms Wilson a serial liar who had fabricated almost every aspect of her life.
“The jury rejected the defences of substantive truth, triviality and statutory qualified privilege.”
Dixon made special mention of an article written by well-known journalist, Caroline Overington, for the Woman’s Day website.
“Bauer Media published material by an award-winning investigative journalist as part of its campaign against the plaintiff,” he said.
The article “conveyed that Ms Wilson is so untrustworthy that nothing she says about herself can be taken to be true unless it has been independently corroborated. Such a meaning is, self-evidently, very serious”.
Dixon also found the $389,500 cap on Victorian defamation cases did not apply because Wilson’s case warranted an award of aggravation.
Bauer Media had failed to properly investigate the allegations against Wilson, Dixon said, and published them “knowing them to be false”, from a source who required payment and anonymity and in the opinion of the editor “had an axe to grind”. He added that the company repeated the allegations or foresaw the slurs would be repeated and that its conduct was orchestrated.
On Wednesday morning general counsel for Bauer Media, Adrian Goss, said the company was considering the judgement.
“Bauer Media has a long history of delivering great stories to our readers and we have a reputation for developing some of the best editorial teams in this country. This is what we are focused on,” Goss said.
“It is about continuing to do what we do best and that is delivering great content to more than 85% of Australian women across the country via our iconic portfolio.”
Wilson was seeking $7.093m in damages, including $5.893m covering the loss of one film role, and general damages of $1.2m.
Bauer’s legal team had argued in June that the “extraordinarily large” damages claim should be thrown out because Wilson had failed to prove she had lost work because of the articles.
Bauer Media defence barrister Georgina Schoff QC told the court there was “not one scrap of paper” to prove the articles had caused Wilson to be sacked from two film roles and to miss two years of work as a lead actor.
“You’re not popular for long in Hollywood, you have a few years until you go out of fashion,” Wilson said after the win. “They took those two years away from me doing what I love, which is entertaining people and making people laugh.”
The actor had previously said she would be donating the money to charity, scholarships, or invested in the Australian film industry, but was yet to respond to the judgment on Wednesday.
Wilson is on holiday in Europe after wrapping up filming on her latest movie. She said she would make a statement later on Wednesday.