Lawyer gets $1 for suit judge says should not have been filed
Online posting was claimed to be defamatory
A Vancouver lawyer has been awarded just $1 in damages arising from a defamation lawsuit that a judge says the lawyer and the law firm she works with should never have filed.
Kyla Lee, who provides legal services to Acumen Law Corp. as an independent contractor, represented a client in August 2017 seeking a review of a 90-day roadside driving suspension, according to a B.C. Supreme Court ruling.
After an adjudicator upheld the driving ban, her client asked for a refund from Lee and the law firm, a request which was declined.
In response, the client posted some comments that were critical of Lee on the plaintiffs’ Google Plus profile.
A lawyer from Acumen asked the client to remove the online post or face a defamation suit. When the post was not removed, the suit was filed.
After the client failed to respond to the civil claim, the plaintiffs applied for and were granted a “default” judgment, which was handed down solely on the basis that the defendant had failed to file a response and did not address the merits of the alleged defamation.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Murray, who was assigned to assess whether the online comments amounted to defamation and warranted damages, said statements must be considered objectively from the standpoint of a “reasonably thoughtful, well-informed person.”
In her ruling in the case, the judge noted that the comments were clearly written by a “disgruntled” client, were posted in the “heat of the moment” and were written in poor English and contained spelling mistakes and poor punctuation.
Murray said she was not satisfied that a reasonable, right-thinking person would accept the post as being accurate.
“Nor am I satisfied that it would lower or even impact their estimation of the plaintiffs’ reputation,” said the judge. “Further, while the comments are derogatory, I have my doubts as to whether they are defamatory.”
If the comments were defamatory, they were “at the lowest end of the scale,” added the judge.
In assessing damages, the judge found that the plaintiffs had provided the court with little information regarding the impact of the Internet post on them.
The judge said that in a time when virtually everyone has instantaneous access to the Internet, many use it to express their feelings without pause or reflection, and business people with Google Plus profiles cannot expect to receive all favourable reports.
“As the adage goes, you can’t please everyone all the time. I add here that a lawyer must exercise restraint when they receive a review that displeases them.”
The judge added: “In my view, this action should never have been brought.” To demonstrate the court’s disapproval, the judge awarded the plaintiffs $1 in damages.
Lee said that she was “not pleased” with the outcome although it was never their goal to “get a bunch of money.”
A LAWYER MUST EXERCISE RESTRAIN WHEN THEY RECEIVE A (POOR) REVIEW.
“Our bigger concern was having the post removed. The other thing I disagree with is the judge’s characterization of the facts.”
Lee said a “bunch” of facts that would have been before the judge had there been a full hearing were not before the judge, resulting in a ruling based on some incorrect information.
She said the offending post was written several months after the adjudicator’s decision and therefore was not made in the heat of the moment.
“So it’s frustrating that there wasn’t a better understanding of the facts that led to this,” said Lee. “The question is, is calling somebody the “worstest” lawyer ever, defamatory? As far as I’m concerned, it is.”
The Vancouver lawyer said another of her concerns is that there is very little recourse for business owners to respond to negative or false reviews posted online, but added that she doesn’t plan to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee of Acumen Law specializes in immediate roadside prohibitions and driving law.