Business disputes can fester without legal advice and ultimately lead to ruin. Exactly that happened in one case in which a disgruntled franchisee resorted to making allegedly libellous online statements as a misguided means of airing his grievances.
The man had run an outlet for an industrial equipment company until an acrimonious contract dispute culminated in the company terminating his franchise. He was ultimately made bankrupt and his home was sold to pay his creditors. That was the trigger for a series of online posts that the company claimed were defamatory.
After the company took legal action, the man failed to engage with the proceedings and a default judgment was entered against him. He was ordered to pay £10,000 in damages and £53,560 in legal costs. He was subsequently found in contempt of court after breaching an injunction that forbade him from making any further posts similar to those the company had complained about.
In seeking to set aside both those decisions, the man insisted that he was not the person responsible for the posts. He argued that he had not been served with court documents and had only become aware of the proceedings at a late stage.
In rejecting his applications, however, the High Court found that he had for a long time deliberately ignored the proceedings in the belief that it was in his best interests to do so. He had told a number of increasingly desperate lies in an attempt to cover up the fact that he had known about the proceedings from the outset. The Court was sure that he was the person responsible for publishing the allegedly defamatory material and would hear further argument as to what punishment should be imposed in respect of the earlier finding of contempt.