Channel 10 could be held liable for Lisa Wilkinson’s legal fees and any damages in her defamation case brought by Bruce Lehrmann, if she loses, it could be disclosed.
Mr Lehrmann is suing the highly paid TV presenter and Channel 10 over coverage of the February 2021 rape allegations by Brittany Higgins, which he vehemently denies and has never been proven in court, alleging they were libelous.
When Ms. Wilkinson made the rare choice of turning down Channel 10’s legal team, it was reported that she would pay “out of her own pocket.”
But that will only happen if she wins, an analysis of legal documents and interviews with several legal experts confirmed.
It’s all focused on one key sentence in the 23-page document filed by Top Silk Sue Chrysanthou SC, which defends the lawsuit against Ms. Wilkinson.
This judgment alleges that Ms. Wilkinson “says she is an employee under the Employers’ Liability Act of 1991 (NSW)”.
Under this legislation, “an employee is not liable if the employer is also liable” if “the employee commits an offense (in this case, defamation) for which his or her employer is also liable.”
Seasoned media attorney Peter Bartlett breaks down legal jargon.
He explained that if Ms. Wilkinson lost the case and it was found that she had committed libel against Mr. Lermann, she would be charged all legal costs.
She will be financially protected by Channel 10, who will have to pay for Ms. Chrysanta, as well as their own legal team led by Matt Collins, KC.
Ms. Wilkinson and her employer are separate defendants in the defamation case, meaning that a Federal Court could find one of them guilty of causing damages to either or neither of them.
But Mr. Bartlett said the clause of the act was that she would not be protected if she won or, legally speaking, would be found not to have committed the tort of libel.
“If she wins, she will pay her legal fees and still be left without money. Because usually you recover 75 or 80 percent of your costs,” he said.
Mr. Bartlett said that in most cases where a media company and their reporter are sued, the media company will indemnify (financially protect) the reporter and they have the same legal representation.
“So it’s very unusual here… That a reporter has a separate office,” he said.
Another senior legal source said Ms. Wilkinson could get “up to hundreds of thousands of dollars” out of her pocket even if she won, due to a gap in costs paid and damages awarded, which they priced slightly lower than Mr. Bartlett. , in “60 to 70 percent”.
The source said another caveat is that Mr Lehrmann may not have enough money to make amends if Ms Wilkinson wins – in which case Ms Wilkinson could be out of pocket for 100 percent of her expenses. .
And to complicate matters, another legal source said that since Ms. Wilkinson is stating the truth in her defense — a defense that requires more resources to prove than others, such as the limited privilege (which she also talks about) — Channel 10 will have to pay Mr. Lehrmann will pay even more damages if she loses.
The source said that because of this, Channel 10 will probably try to find a legal loophole to not comply with the law and pay such huge costs.
They said that, in fact, the only way Ms. Wilkinson would guarantee to avoid financial risk by sticking with the Channel 10 lawyers.
Mr Lehrmann was charged with non-consensual sexual intercourse in August 2021 and pleaded not guilty to the charge, which was later dropped.
He always denied having sex with Miss Higgins and any wrongdoing during the trial.
Ms Wilkinson, who renewed her multi-year contract with Channel 10 in 2021, continues to be online but hasn’t been on screen since leaving The Project in November.
Her decision to hire her own legal team followed the dire consequences of Logies, which led to a delay in the criminal process.
The broadcaster came under fire after thanking Ms Higgins in her acceptance speech for the Outstanding News Coverage award.
This prompted the Chief Justice of the ACT Supreme Court to postpone the trial “through teeth” from June to October, after defense lawyers said it could harm jurors.
Following the trial, a letter written by Network 10 executive vice president Beverly McGarvey claimed that neither the network’s senior counsel nor Ms. Wilkinson knew they had been warned about speaking at a meeting with Attorney General Shane Drumgold.
The first trial failed due to jury misconduct and the DPP ultimately did not continue, with the second citing Ms Higgins’ mental health.
The defense, which invokes truth and limited privilege, argued that Ms Wilkinson “at all relevant points in time” understood that Network 10 had hired a team of expert legal experts with a track record of “defamation and contempt.”
Mr Lermann brought legal action on Feb. 7 against Lisa Wilkinson and Network 10, as well as News Life Media of News Corp Australia and Samantha Maiden of news.com.au.
He claimed that the Channel 10 and News Corp stories implied four slanderous implications, including that he “raped Brittany Higgins in [then] Cabinet Secretary of Defense Linda Reynolds in 2019.”
A defense paper presented by Ms. Wilkinson’s lawyer, Sue Krisant SK, said it argues that Mr. Lehrmann’s behavior “amounts to rape.”
News Life Media and Channel 10 have yet to present their defense, with the former having a March 7 deadline and the latter March 8.
Channel 10 declined to comment.
Originally published as Lisa Wilkinson’s application for Channel 10 to cover legal costs and damages if she loses Bruce Lehrmann’s libel case