We’ve all experienced and know the frustration of dealing with a nasty neighbour. However, the Supreme Court of British Columbia recently found a woman liable to pay her neighbour nearly $70,000 in damages after posting negative comments about him on Facebook.
In Pritchard v. Van Nes, 2016 BCSC 686, the Pritchard family and the Van Nes family had been neighbours since 2008. Unfortunately, their relationship was far from “neighbourly” and had been fraught with discord since at least 2011. By 2016, tensions between the two families had escalated to a boiling point, with daily disputes between sides including parking, late night parties, trespassing and the whereabouts of a family dog.
During the turmoil, and as what she later characterized as “venting”, Ms. Van Nes made a number of Facebook posts concerning Mr. Pritchard. Ms. Van Nes’ Facebook posts included statements whereby she called Mr. Pritchard a “nutter”, a “creep” and accused him of using a system of cameras and mirrors to keep surveillance on her and her family. When Ms. Van Nes published her posts to her Facebook page, she had over 2000 Facebook “friends.” Ms. Van Nes’ posts about Mr. Pritchard quickly gained traction on social media; in fact, over the next 21 hours, Ms. Van Nes’ posts prompted 57 further posts, 48 made by “friends” of Ms. Van Nes and 9 made by Ms. Van Nes herself. Some comments included that Mr. Pritchard (who was a teacher) was not fit for his job and implied that he was a pedophile.
Shortly after, Mr. Pritchard sued Ms. Van Nes for both defamation and nuisance. When Ms. Van Nes did not file a defence, Mr. Pritchard successfully obtained a Default Judgment against her and was granted almost $70,000 in damages.
This case is important for all litigants, not just warring neighbours, to keep in mind when dealing with high-conflict, emotional situations. In this case, the Supreme Court of British Columbia found Ms. Van Nes liable not only for her own Facebook posts, but for the republication of her posts by her Facebook “friends.” Litigants who have the urge to take to social media to “vent” their frustrations should take heed of this decision before they type and remember that Facebook is forever!