Missing Apostrophe in Facebook Post Lands a Man in Defamation Court

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An Australian man claimed that a real estate agent did not pay his “employees” retirement funds. The lack of punctuation could cost him thousands.

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A missing apostrophe could cost a real estate agent tens of thousands of dollars after an Australian court decided to proceed with Facebook Post in a defamation case against him.


The agent, Anthony Zadravic, who is based on the Central Coast in New South Wales, posted a message on October 22 accusing his former workplace and a man named Stuart Gunn of not paying retirement funds to all of his employees.

Less than 12 hours later, he deleted the post. But it was too late. Mr. Gan became aware of the message and filed a defamation claim against Mr. Zadrvik, setting off a fight over a punctuation mark larger than a pinhead in a country that has earned a reputation as the defamation capital of the world.

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In terms of punctuation, social media is the Wild West. In some corners of the Internet, careless grammar is highly tolerated—even a badge of honor. In legal cases, however, disputed punctuation marks can be worth millions.

Portland, m. In a recent case, state law on overtime for truck drivers hinges on the lack of an Oxford comma. The case, which was settled for $5 million in 2018, gained international notoriety when the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the missing comma caused substantial uncertainty with drivers. It gave grammar enthusiasts and Oxford comma lovers a chance to enjoy the victory.

Legal experts say the missing apostasy case is not surprising in Australia, which has a complex web of defamation laws and a history of paying large sums of money to plaintiffs. For example, in 2019, Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush was awarded more than $2 million in a defamation case against Rupert Murdoch’s Nationwide News, the largest ever payment to a man in Australian history. In the same year, a billionaire businessman won a defamation suit against a news organization that he claimed had falsely linked him to a bribery case.

In Mr. Zadrvik’s case, the court examined the word “employee” in his post criticizing the company: “Oh Stuart Gan!! Selling multimillion-dollar homes in Pearl Beach, but not paying their employees for retirement. Can,” the post read. “Shame on you Stuart!!! 2 years and still waiting!!!”

According to court documents, in his defence, Mr. Zadrvik appears to imply that he meant to add an apostasy. After all, who hasn’t spoofed grammar in firing up social media posts in a tizzy?

But a judge in New South Wales rejected his attempts to crush the case on the grounds that it was trivial, saying the absent sermon was read to suggest a “systematic pattern of conduct” by Mr Gan’s agency. could go.

“It is difficult for the plaintiff to use the word ’employee’ in the plural,” District Court Judge Judith Gibson said in her statement. “Failure to pay the retirement eligibility of an employee can be viewed as unfortunate; Failing to pay some or all of them seems intentional.”

Judge Gibson noted that the trial could have cost Mr Zadravik more than $180,000, and cited similar cases, including one involving an Australian veterinarian who was accused of posting abusive reviews online by a former client. A prize of more than $18,000 was given after. In the latest case, it was not immediately clear what kind of recourse Mr. Gan had taken from the court.

Neither Mr. Jadrvik’s lawyers nor Mr. Gana immediately responded to requests for comment.

High-profile defamation cases represent only a small fraction of the claims brought before the court each year.

“The courts are full of claims,” ​​said Barry Goldsmith, a special counsel for Rostron Carlyle Rojas Lawyers. A Sydney lawyer who has worked on defamation cases for more than three decades said such claims would not be possible in the United States, where the First Amendment protects freedom of expression.

Australia’s notoriously strict defamation laws have raised fears of media censorship. a 2018 survey The Australian Journalists Association found that nearly a quarter of respondents said they had a news article that year because of fear of defamation claims.

The union has called for the country’s “outdated” defamation laws to be changed. Advocates say the requirement has become more urgent in the wake of a high court ruling last month that news sites can be held liable for defamation because of replies posted to their articles on Facebook – even if the articles themselves. Don’t be defamatory. Shortly after, CNN stopped publishing its articles on the country’s Facebook pages.

In the latest case, Mr Goldsmith said, the two individuals were highly likely to reach a settlement rather than go to trial.

“The defendant’s intent is irrelevant,” he said, as a layman reading the post would not know what the intent was. “On paper, it’s a really minor difference, but in reality,” Goldsmith said, it’s a “major one.”

Although the controversy turns over a missing syllable, for others, misusing punctuation marks is, in fact, tantamount to a crime.

According to Lynn Truss in her book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”: “It doesn’t matter if you have a PhD and you’ve read Henry James twice. If you still kept on writing ‘Good Food at its Best’ If you are, you deserve to be struck by lightning, cut off on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.

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