There’s a lesson for anyone who’s ever tempted to fire off an angry, sarcastic or frustrated email to their strata committee – a defamation case over emails has cost one Manly resident at least $120,000.
The email stoush over physical mailboxes ended up in NSW District Court when the strata committee chairman sued a resident over emails sent last year to him and other occupants of the building.
As alerted to us by strata lawyer David Sachs of our sponsors Sachs Gerace Broome, and reported in today’s (May 22) Sydney Morning Herald, the court heard that the elderly chairman had sent several emails to one resident, complaining that her failure to lock her own mailbox had compromised the security of all the mailboxes.
There had been a number of mailbox thefts at the building which, he said, could have resulted from thieves being able to create a master key from her exposed lock.
In her response, copied to other residents, the defendant claimed she had been publicly shamed and harassed by the emails.
“To avoid further harassment, I’ve not replied to your provoking mailbox emails,” she wrote. “However, your consistent attempt to shame me publicly is cowardly. It is also offensive, harassing and menacing through the use of technology to threaten me.”
The chairman’s lawyers said those comments, and others, defamed the chairman by implying he was a “small-minded busybody who wastes the time of fellow residents on petty items”.
They also alleged that the offending emails suggested the chairman had harassed the defendant by “consistently threatening her by email” and that he was a malicious person who had set out to publicly humiliate her.
Last week a District Court Judge agreed, and said the resident had failed to establish a defence, such as truth or fair comment, to any of the allegations.
“Every sentence of the defendant’s email in reply struck a blow at the plaintiff, and was intended to ridicule and humiliate him in every way,” she said.
The chairman was awarded $90,000 in general damages and $30,000 in aggravated damages with costs to be assessed.
You can read a summary of the whole case here.
And for those of us who’ve been fired up enough to write an angry email in response to some perceived slight by our committees, strata managers or neighbours, here’s piece of advice: Get it all out on the screen … then delete it.
What might feel like a witty aside or even a justified complaint when your creative juices are in full flow, could cost you a motza if you can’t back it up in court.
Write what you want and get it off your chest – just don’t hit “send”.