Dennis Wagner
Dennis Wagner

Judge awards Wagner brothers nearly $3.7m defamation payout

THE Supreme Court of Queensland has awarded Denis, John, Neill and Joe Wagner a $3.7 million defamation payout.

A Supreme Court jury earlier this year found the four brothers had been defamed by a Channel 9 60 Minutes program of May 24, 2015, which claimed a quarry then owned by the Wagners had caused a "man-made" flood during the 2011 "inland tsunami" which had gone on to kill 12 people in Grantham.

The jury also found comments by journalist Nicholas Cater during the program had "conveyed a similar imputation by his words".

Justice Peter Applegarth ordered that Channel 9 pay each of the Wagner brothers $600,000 and that Mr Cater pay each of the four brothers $300,000.

Channel Nine will also have to pay $63,000 in interest, while Mr Cater will need to pay $31,500 in interest.

Justice Applegarth also ordered the defendants to pay the Wagners' legal costs.

The Supreme Court in Toowoomba last month heard arguments for the amount of damages to be awarded from the defamation and this morning Justice Applegarth brought down his judgment in the Supreme Court in Brisbane.

"In assessing damages, the court concluded that 60 Minutes' and Mr Cater's respective defamations caused substantial injury to the Wagers' reputations for integrity and competence, and great harm to the Wagners personally," Justice Applegarth said.

"This includes the distress of fearing what people around the nation were thinking about them, and the hurt and outrage at being the subject of reckless journalism and an apparent vendetta by Mr Cater.

"Being falsely accused of having failed to take steps to prevent their quarry wall from collapsing, causing the deaths of 12 people and the destruction of a town, is an extraordinarily serious defamation.

"The program included vision of the devastation of Grantham and the trauma of flood victims, including the inconsolable grief of a mother whose infant was taken from her arms in the flood."

Justice Applegarth was also scathing of Channel 9 and other defendants for a failure to apologise to the Wagner brothers.

"The injuries inflicted by the defendants' defamations were made worse by their failure to properly apologise and withdraw the defamatory imputations," he said.

"That unjustifiable conduct, which has aggravated harm, has continued to this day.

"The sums awarded are intended to convince members of the public, who saw the 60 Minutes program or heard about it on the grapevine, that the defamatory imputations conveyed by it and by Mr Cater's statements on it are baseless.

"They seek to compensate the Wagners, to the extent that money can, for the great harm that these indefensible defamations have caused."