$580K lawsuit over caravan slur
THE moderator of a Facebook group for owners of "lemon" caravans is defending a $580,000 lawsuit, after a manufacturer accused her of "maliciously intending" to cause the company to lose sales.
The manufacturer claims this was caused by the moderator implying its off-roaders were "defective", "poor quality" or "unsafe" and that the company was a "rogue trader".
Disability pensioner Tracy Leigh, from Pemberton, south of Perth, has been sued by high-end off-road caravan company Bruder Expedition Pty Ltd (Bruder), from Oxley in Brisbane's south-west, in the District Court in Brisbane.
On the first day of the civil trial today before a jury of four people, Mark Martin QC, for Bruder, alleged that Ms Leigh injured the reputation of the expedition trailer company in posts to the 47,000 followers of her Facebook page Lemon Caravans & RVs in Aus on June 30 this year and again in July when she said Bruder "bullies" customers who complain.
Bruder alleged Ms Leigh allowed posts on her page which were "injurious falsehoods" after a member of the group shared a link to a website where a NSW man, Charles Coles, from Dural, encouraged people to reconsider purchasing Bruder's products after his own allegedly negative experience with the company.
Ms Leigh published a comment on the Lemon Facebook page on May 5 this year thanking the woman for posting the link to Mr Coles' story, saying "I am hoping by showing this to 45,000 members that Bruder might pick up their act. Losing a sale would cost them a fortune."
She published further comments, calling Bruder a "bully" and "rogue trader" after Bruder sent her a legal letter, threatening legal action and asking for an apology and for her to remove posts from Facebook, the court heard.
"Bruder says it has never engaged in bullying and never threatened any customers," Mr Martin told the jury.
Bruder is claiming it has lost gross profits from a "significant drop in sales" in May, June and July of $480,000 and claims it was required to hire a salesperson to combat the negative publicity on a salary of $95,000.
Bruder claims it lost six caravan sales.
Ms Leigh denies Bruder suffered any loss as a result of her actions, and says any losses were as a result of its own actions.
She claims the comments about caravans being defective, poor quality or unsafe and overpriced "only related to" Mr Coles' caravan and not to all Bruder caravans.
Mr Martin told the jury that the company fixed small problems with Mr Coles' caravan, but Mr Coles demanded a full refund despite making several significant structural and electrical changes to his van.
Bruder is owned by brothers Toby and Daniel Bosschieter, the court heard.
Daniel Bosschieter and Ms Leigh are due to be called as witnesses in the trial, which is set to run until next week.
The trial continues tomorrow.