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R50 000 libel damages for travel agent labelled ‘crook’ by customer

A court ordered Michiel Coetzee to pay travel agent Johanna (Maggie) du Toit R30 000 for defamation, and a further R20 000 for hurting her feelings. Picture: File

A court ordered Michiel Coetzee to pay travel agent Johanna (Maggie) du Toit R30 000 for defamation, and a further R20 000 for hurting her feelings. Picture: File

Published Jun 8, 2022

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Pretoria - A disgruntled customer who called a travel agent “a crook” because she did not cancel a trip to Spain at his request which he had earlier booked, must pay her damages for insulting her.

The high court sitting in the Free State ordered Michiel Coetzee pay travel agent Johanna (Maggie) du Toit R30 000 for defamation, and a further R20 000 for hurting her feelings.

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Acting Judge MS Litheko said there was no doubt that Du Toit “was wounded in her self-esteem by what she considered to be an unjustified attack on her good name and dignity”.

The publication of defamatory words concerning her was, however, made to a relatively small number of people, the majority of whom were her immediate family, the judge said. “Despite this, she is entitled to recompense for the affront to her dignity.”

Du Toit told the court that in November 2018 Coetzee asked her to book flight tickets and accommodation for him and his life partner for their trip to Spain. She compiled a quotation and discussed it with him.

He paid the quoted amount but that evening, he contacted her and asked whether he could cancel the bookings as he had financial difficulties. Du Toit undertook to revert back to him.

She later told Coetzee the bookings could not be cancelled and he became very angry and he called her a crook. Du Toit became emotional when she testified that she had made travel and accommodation bookings for Coetzee on about four occasions in the past.

She said it was the first time in her 20-year career as a travel agent that she had been insulted by a client. To make matters worse, Du Toit said, she later heard he had told her family and colleagues she is a crook, that she stole money from him and that he would never do business with her or the travel agency she worked for, again.

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Coetzee did not dispute the utterances, but tried to justify it by saying that he had no intention to insult Du Toit or to cause her any harm. He also attempted to justify his conduct by attributing it to Du Toit’s failure to carry out his instructions despite her knowledge of his financial situation.

Counsel for Du Toit said Coetzee owed her compensation as he told those close to her she had “cheated him” out of his money, causing her a lot of humiliation and embarrassment. Coetzee’s apology to her was made for the first time in his testimony in court and therefore “not genuine but an afterthought”.

Pretoria News

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