FAIRFAX Media is “seriously considering” an appeal after cricket superstar Chris Gayle won a defamation action against them over allegations he flashed his penis to a female masseuse, with the organisation saying it “did not get a fair trial”.
The jury of three women and one man today determined it was not true that Gayle exposed his genitalia to Leanne Russell and indecently propositioned her in the West Indies team dressing room during a training session at the 2015 World Cup.
The jury also found Fairfax was motivated by malice when it published the allegations in a series of articles in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times.
Gayle sued Fairfax over a series of articles, published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Canberra Times over the claims, which were alleged to have occurred in the change rooms at Drummoyne Oval on February 11, 2015.
Outside court today, Gayle expressed satisfaction the jury believed his story that he did not expose himself.
“Yes that was 100 percent true, no, no, no,” he said.
He said he was very happy the jury found in his favour for all four questions that were put to them.
“I came this far all the way from Jamaica to actually defend myself and at the end of the day I’m very very happy.
“I just want to thank the legal team they did a great job.”
Gayle said the stories published by Fairfax and the defamation case were, “very emotional,” for him.
“I’m glad the public had a chance to read things and they can hear what transpired in the courtroom,” he said.
Later this afternoon, Fairfax Media released a statement, saying it was now looking at appealing.
“Fairfax Media is concerned with the conduct of the trial to the extent that on Friday it sought an order that the jury be discharged and a new trial ordered,” a spokesman said.
“The Judge accepted that the jury had been misled in a way that prejudiced Fairfax, but declined to discharge the jury.
“Fairfax believes that it did not get a fair trial. It is seriously considering its appeal rights.”
Following the verdict, Fairfax lawyer Peter Bartlett from Minter Ellison said the verdict: “could cost the company a lot of money unless we can reverse it on appeal”.
Gayle, who said after the trial that he was more concerned about clearing his name than whatever amount was awarded, could be in for a windfall if a recent history of defamation cases is anything to go by.
In New South Wales, where the case was heard, there is no limit on how much money the court can order in costs to the winner of a defamation complaint.
According to reports, a Western Australia court, last year, awarded the largest ever Australian payout in a defamation case brought by three people against a blogger, Terence McLernon, of AUD$700,000.
Australia’s Uniform Defamation Act, last amended in 2005, does not differentiate between publishing by a media company or an individual and makes no mention of Internet, print or social media publication.
Celebrity status can also play a significant role in how much money is paid out to someone whose character has been besmirched by media.
In September 2017, Actress Rebel Wilson was awarded Australia’s highest-ever defamation payout, after successfully suing Bauer Media over a series of defamatory articles.
According to a story published on news.com.au, “a Supreme Court judge claimed the extent of Wilson’s defamation was “unprecedented” and warranted substantial damages – to the tune of more than $4.5 million – after the jury found articles published in Woman’s Day, Australian Women’s Weekly, New Weekly and OK!, unfairly painted her as a serial liar who’d faked her way to Hollywood.”
It’s a huge financial blow to Bauer, the online news site reported, especially considering lawyers for the Pitch Perfect star claim that before the trial, she had offered to settle for $200,000.
Defending a court action for defamation costs can vary from $100,000 to $1.1 million, which far exceeds the legislated maximum damages of $381,000, the figures show.
Damages can also be substantial.
Fairfax Media’s lawyer Richard Coleman said only about 10 to 15 percent of defamation claims made against the media organisation, publisher of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, ever made it to court.
Gayle had said the articles were, “the most hurtful thing I have actually come across in my entire life”.
Gayle’s barrister Bruce McClintock accused Russell of making the story up.
He had suggested to Russell that she and West Indies physiotherapist, CJ Clarke, who had an ongoing feud with Gayle, colluded to make up the story so the cricketer would be kicked out of the team.
The court heard allegations Clarke had challenged Gayle to a fight during the West Indies tour of South Africa in 2015.
Clarke also sent Russell a text message the day after the Mel McLaughlin “don’t blush, baby” interview suggesting that she should put in her “two cents.”
The following day when the allegations were published Clarke texted Russell, “you little beauty, well done”.