A “little neighborhood quarrel” worthy of A current affair won’t cost a Sydney woman $ 300,000 after an appeals court found all but one of her defamatory statements to be essentially true.
Lawyer Vanessa Hutley was ordered to pay damages to her neighbor Anthony Cosco after she accused her on the Nine tabloid television show in 2016 of bullying herself and her family, and putting directly their life in danger.
The bitter conflict began when Mr Cosco completed construction on the neighboring house purchased in the suburb of Balmain in western Sydney in 2013.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rothman said the “little neighborhood feud” was “primarily caused by the arrogance and sense of superiority” of Ms Hutley.
But the Court of Appeal overturned the judgment on Tuesday, finding Mr Cosco had endangered Ms Hutley’s family by placing flammable expanding foam in a vent.
The vent led from Ms Hutley’s kitchen hood to a location near where Mr Cosco planned to build a fence.
At a hearing earlier this month, Mr Cosco’s attorney, Sue Chrysanthou SC, said Ms Hutley had presented herself to “a million viewers” as the victim of an unprovoked and ongoing campaign.
But that was “far from the truth,” the lawyer said, pointing to a conversation in which Ms Hutley and her husband threatened to “roast you, we are lawyers”.
“Does this sound like people who feel intimidated or intimidated?” Ms. Chrysanthou SC asked the appeal judges.
But the court said Tuesday that Mr Cosco had intimidated, having taken matters into his own hands when he was unable to persuade his neighbor that work to move or block the vent should be done and executed immediately.
“Threatening to damage someone else’s house because they don’t quickly comply with your requests is the act of a bully, as is the realization of the threat,” Justice John Basten said in writing.
“For this reason alone, (the) imputation was found to be essentially true.”
The court also found the builder to be responsible for abuse writings in cement outside Ms Hutley’s home.
One of Ms Hutley’s claims – that Mr Cosco harassed her by throwing fence material on her lawn – was not held to be substantially true as the court found Ms Hutley and her husband had done the first step.
But the court found that Mr Cosco had not suffered further from his already damaged reputation.
It was essentially true that he was a liar, based on lies to the police and a magistrate, and had acted dishonorably by entering the administration shortly after agreeing to pay Mrs Hutley a large sum for an error during the construction of Balmain, the court concluded.
Prior to Tuesday’s judgment, Mr. Cosco had received $ 300,000 in damages, $ 60,000 in interest and had to charge Ms. Hutley for legal costs.
But the successful appeal means the builder will now have to cover his and Ms Hutley’s legal costs for the lawsuit and appeal.