Woman ordered to pay $600,000 for nasty remarks about dressmaker

November 01, 2016

Shawna Hawthorne, a St Andrew shopkeeper,  has lost her appeal against a lower court's ruling that she slandered a dressmaker during a street quarrel in 2011.

However, in its judgment handed down on Friday, the Court of Appeal set aside the $446,000 that the shopkeeper was ordered to pay as special damages for causing the dressmaker to lose income.

For the damage to her reputation, the dressmaker, Fiona Ross, will only be entitled to $600,000, with interest, calculated from July 29, 2011 to Friday's date of the judgment.

Hawthorne and Ross and had a quarrel on May 16, 2011 in Lawrence Tavern, St Andrew, after Ross refused to move a car that was parked in front Hawthorne's shop.

During the quarrel, the shopkeeper allegedly slandered Ross by making reference to a disease.

Ross filed a lawsuit in July 29, 2011 and won at trial three years later.

However, the shopkeeper filed appealed in May 2014 saying she neither nor the dressmaker were innocent parties to the situation as the dressmaker, by refusing to move her vehicle, was the aggressor.

The appeal was heard in May and the decision handed down on Friday. The court upheld the trial judge's acceptance of a witness testimony that the shopkeeper used words that conveyed the meaning of promiscuity and imputed that the dressmaker "was a woman of loose morals, an imputation which in Jamaica carries nothing but a stigma".

The shopkeeper's argument that her utterances were merely vulgar and that a response from the dressmaker was defamatory were also rejected.

The Court of Appeal agreed with Ross that Justice Georgiana Fraser, the trial judge, had no evidence on which to make an award for loss of earnings to the dressmaker.

The dressmaker had claimed she lost $27,000 per month after the defamatory comments as customers stopping coming to her.