Travel agent loses defamation bid over Facebook review

Review defamation case: Aaren Pty Ltd trading as Price Beat Travel v Arya

On 2 July 2018, the defendant (Arya) uploaded a post to a mums’ Facebook group, ‘Desi Mums Connect (Sydney)’ which had over 6,000 members. The group catered to the Indian-Australian community. The post shared her experience with a travel agent she used from Price Beat Travel (“Price Beat”). Price Beat would then claim that this was review defamation.

The defendant said that she purchased a ticket from Price Beat, which included a baby bassinet and baby meal for her baby. When she arrived to board her flight, the flight staff informed her that their was no confirmation of the baby food and bassinet. In fact, they then told her that they hadn’t received any money for her baby to fly. This is despite her ticket confirming baby bassinet and baby food, which she was charged $180 extra. The flight staff informed her that her agent “had done something wrong.” The defendant wrote in her posted review that the agent “cheated us”.

Defamation proceedings in the District Court of NSW

Post to Desi Mums Connect (Sydney) Facebook Group led to review defamation claim
Post to Desi Mums Connect (Sydney) Facebook Group led to review defamation claim

On 1 March 2018, the plaintiff, Price Beat Travel, commenced defamation proceedings against the Defendant. The plaintiff claimed that the post imputed:

  • Price Beat cheated the defendant by charging $180 for an airline ticket for her infant daughter, but not passing on any payments to the airline;
  • The plaintiff cheated the defendant by issuing her a ticket with such false information on it that the defendant had to book another ticket to travel home from India; and
  • The plaintiff was so incompetent as a travel agent that the defendant’s daughter had to travel all the way to India without food or a bassinet to sleep in.

By reason of these imputations, the plaintiff claimed the publication greatly injured its character and reputation.

Can a company sue for review defamation?

In NSW, a corporation does not generally have the ability to sue in relation to the publication of defamatory material unless, among other exceptions, it employs less than 10 persons. The plaintiff claimed that it only employs 5 people, and therefore had standing to sue. However, His Honour Abadee DCJ deemed a call centre in India with 30 workers who answer the businesses queries are business employees, after considering the totality of their relationships. The plaintiff therefore did not have standing to sue.

Nonetheless, Judge Abadee assessed the imputations. He decided only 1 and 2 conveyed defamatory imputations. Though, his honour determined the defendant successfully would have raised a defence of qualified privilege and honest opinion. Despite this, his honour continued to assess damages. Subsequently, he decided the plaintiff would have only been likely to win $10,000 compensation.

No standing and defamation defences would have been established

The plaintiff did not establish they were able to sue the defendant. Even if they could, there were two defences the Judge deemed would have successfully established. Consequently, the plaintiff lost and had to pay the defendants’ costs. For further information, see District Court trial ([2020] NSWDC 657).

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