There are no real winners in a defamation case: Even when you win you lose

The result of a recent New Zealand defamation case is more evidence that even when you win you lose. Both people involved in the case are unhappy with the settlement. Both believed that they could win the case if it went to trial but the costs of fighting and defending the case before it got to trial made both sides decide to settle. Knowing as I do how expensive defamation trials are I think it highly unlikely that Councillor Lee Vandervis came out ahead financially despite receiving $50,000.

A Dunedin councillor has settled for $50,000 after taking defamation action against Mayor Dave Cull.

Councillor Lee Vandervis confirmed he settled the case because of legal delays and spiralling costs, but it comes without an apology.

The case was sparked by a heated exchange in December 2015. The mayor ejected the outspoken councillor from a council meeting after Vandervis claimed he paid a backhander to secure a council contract in the 1980s.

Vandervis alleged the mayor defamed him when responding to that claim.

He originally sought $250,000 in general damages and $250,000 in exemplary damages, plus legal costs.

…Vandervis said the dispute cost “all of my last year’s councillor earnings on legal and court costs”.

He could no longer ask his wife to fund “an unequal battle against rate-paid teams of lawyers and an Auckland Queen’s Counsel defamation specialist”.

Vandervis claimed he had an “open and shut” case against the mayor…

However, the protracted legal dispute meant he settled for $50,000, with no apology.

…Mayor Cull said his legal advice was that “my defence was strong and likely to prevail if the case had gone to trial”.

…Council’s insurers felt that making a payment of $50,000 to Vandervis to cover his costs to date would be much less expensive for them than a successful court outcome.

“I have to accept the insurer’s decision. I would not have offered any payment.”

“The terms of settlement expressly state that the settlement is without any admission of liability by me, and I refused to apologise to Cr Vandervis although he repeatedly demanded that I do so.”

– Stuff

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