What's in a name; famously argued Shakespeare. But little did he know that there could be a lawsuit behind wrong grammar. Just missing one apostrophe in a Facebook post could land a real estate agent in Australia in a legal mess involving tens of thousands of dollars, after a court ruled that a defamation case against him could proceed.

Australia's special trade envoy Tony Abbott during a meeting in New Delhi
Representational imageWikimedia Commons

In the post last year, the agent Anthony Zadravic wrote, "Oh Stuart Gan!! Selling multi-million $homes in Pearl Beach but can't pay his employees superannuation. Shame on you Stuart!! 2 years and still waiting." In the post, the agent appears to accuse Stuart Gan, his former employer at a real estate agency, of not paying retirement funds to 'all' the agency's workers.

The dispute and objection is over the word, "employees". Since Zadravic did not use the apostrophe next to "employees." Even though, less than 12 hours later, Zadravic deleted the post after it was published On October 22, but it was already too late. Gan had read the message and filed a defamation claim against Zadravic.

Zadravic, who is based in the Central Coast in New South Wales, also argued in court that he took down the post within twelve hours but the court dismissed his plea. "To fail to pay one employee's superannuation entitlement might be seen as unfortunate; to fail to pay some or all of them looks deliberate," said the judge Judith Gibson.

Zadravic's another claim that the cost of trial would exceed the potential award of damages was also dismissed on grounds of the two issues not being relevant, reported The Guardian.

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Heavy price for Facebook posts

This is not the first time that a Facebook post, which is originally meant to vent, complaint or seek immediate recourse of action from the authorities, has not gone down well with the legal system of the nation. Last year, a client accused a Brisbane vet of overcharging on Facebook, which resulted in a bad review.

On filing a defamation case, the vet received $25,000 in damages. The dog owner, a woman was ordered to pay a hefty price of almost $30,000 in damages for defaming the vet on social media for bad review given with the use of words like, "grumpy," "took advantage of a distressed pet owner," and "overcharged for drugs given to pet."

That's not a one-off case either. A year prior to that, in 2019, an aged care nurse was compensated with $15000 in damages after a Facebook post said that she was sacked due to alcohol use.

Australia and its defamation laws

This is not the first incident to spark a debate on Australia's strict defamation laws. The country's defamation laws have often been criticised by edits and opinion pieces in the local news media, among others. In fact, a survey conducted in 2018 by the Australian journalists' union said that almost one-fourth of the respondents said that they'd had a news article spiked that year because of fears of defamation cases. The fact that a missed or misused punctuation could cause the aggrieved to in fact pay a heavy price, has been often touted regressive by several legal experts.