The experience of the past ten years confirms that very large
damages in defamation cases in British Columbia are relatively
rare. We can count only five cases since 2001 in which the damage
awards were $200,000 or higher.
In contrast most damage awards for defamation in this Province
remain between $10,000 to $40,000 at the lower end of the range and
up to $150,000 at the higher end of what we refer to as the
"conventional range". The overwhelming majority of
assessments fall within the "low" ($10,000 to $40,000)
and "mid-level" ($60,000 to $80,000) range, with
relatively few at the higher level ($100,000 to $150,000).
As to what explains the wide differences in the level of
damages, the seriousness of the wrongful imputation (the content of
the defamatory words) is one factor. But rarely does the content
alone explain the level of damages.
The scope of publication is another well recognized factor. Mass
media dissemination (and distribution by Internet) is a key factor
that may – and in many cases will – escalate
But a third cluster of factors – which appears to be
most significant in moving cases to the highest level of damages
– concerns the conduct and motives of the
defendant both during and after publication and even after the
commencement of litigation. In cases where there is a persistent,
willful and repeated pattern of publishing known falsehoods (or
publishing statements with reckless indifference to whether they
are true or not) the highest level of damages is more likely to
result. Other instances of very high levels of awards have been
made where defendants by their conduct even after the start of
litigation have tended to aggravate the injury, humiliate or insult
the claimant: in such cases the courts have acknowledged that only
a very high level of damages may be sufficient to achieve the
"vindication" of reputation which is one of the key
purposes of a damages award in a defamation case.
Three of the recent very large awards in British Columbia
(Ager v. Canjax Publishing Ltd. (2005), WeGo Kayaking
Ltd. v. Sewid (2007), and Newman v. Halstead (2006))
involved electronic media. But caution must be taken in assuming
that Internet and e-mail has generally escalated the level of
damages. During the past ten years there have been many other
defamation decisions involving the Internet and e-mail. In the vast
majority of those cases there is nothing to suggest that
publication by Internet or e-mail has resulted in a significantly
higher level of damages than exists in other cases. Electronic
media offers a potentially very large audience, and a large
audience can increase the injury to reputation. But the mere fact
of publication by electronic media in the absence of other
aggravating factors has not generally lead to a higher level of
You will find posted on this site a full review of recent high
level damage awards defamation cases: see
Defamation and Damages. In the forthcoming second and third
parts of that article we will take a more detailed look at the more
conventional range of damage awards, and we will look specifically
at cases involving Internet and e-mail.
The level of damages in many cases is determined by how a
defendant responds and handles the matter after a complaint is
first received. Decisions made immediately after the complaint and
even decisions taken after the start of litigation can
significantly affect the level of damages.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
In Irwin v. Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, 2015 ABCA 396, the Alberta Court of Appeal found that the "ABVMA" failed to afford procedural fairness to a veterinarian undergoing an incapacity assessment.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).