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Restaurant owners Libel Awards after bad review.July 1, 2014
A long-running legal case in Australia has after two jury trials, one before a Judge and two appeals, two special leave applications to the High Court and a full High Court hearing come to an end after more than 10 years
The case started in 2003 when the Sidney Morning Herald printed a restaurant review by it’s’ reviewer Matthew Evans of the then very upmarket Coco Roco restaurant. What Evans failed to note, however, was that Coco Roco was actually two restaurants; Evans was only reviewing the more upscale of the two. The restaurant actually comprised of two restaurants one being the very affluent Coco restaurant and the other the bistro called Roco which was not as affluent but was still a smart restaurant on the water’s edge, not as pricey as its other restaurant.
Mr Evan’s review was very scathing about the dishes served in the restaurant. He did not differentiate between the two restaurants when in fact he had only been to the expensive affluent Coco restaurant, once after its opening and the week after with a friend. He had never eaten at the Roco Bistro restaurant. He did mention in his review that there were two restaurants at Coco Roco and that he chose to eat in the more expensive one. He made very disparaging remarks about the food served and only gave them a 9 out of 20 rating. Coco Roco subsequently closed – within six months of the review – and the owners sued the Herald’s publisher, John Fairfax Publications, and Evans for defamation.
The restaurants were owned by three people two of whom were sisters Ljiljana Gacic who put on 9 stone and tried to take her own life after the review and her sister Aleksandra Gacic who was unable to walk for quite a while after reading the review.
The appeal court found that because the article failed to properly identify that the food and service being reviewed was that of Coco, not Roco, he had defamed the restaurant downstairs.
The Court ruled “an ordinary reasonable reader would have read the matter complained of as referring to both restaurants”.
The presiding Judge Mr Justice Peter Hall said that as the case had gone on so long that damage to reputation and hurt feelings carried on as references to the newspaper article continued online with the Judge saying “Such a continued publication over the years exacerbated the injury and hurt by the plaintiffs”.
Owners Aleksandra Gacic, Ljiljana Gacic and Branislav Ciric each recieved libel awards of $160,000 damages plus interest for 11 years of $47,842.19, taking each payout to $207,842.19.