An Australian poker player wrongly accused on Facebook of stealing from his roommate during a trip to the WSOP has won AU$340,000 in damages from four of his fellow players. Nicholas Polias sued his former friends after they spread scurrilous rumors on the social media site about his role in the disappearance of $2,000, which was later found hidden inside a soft toy.
Following a dispute about the money, which its owner, Polias’ roommate, Toby Ryall, believed had gone missing from the dresser of a Vegas hotel room at the 2012 WSOP, Polias posted an explanation on Facebook which he hoped would clear the matter up.
However, several people, including Ryall, left responses underneath implying that Polias was a thief and a liar. Another man, Andy Hun Wei Lee, meanwhile, posted comments that accused Polias of trying to scam another player at Sydney’s Star Casino and continued to repeat the rumors that Polias was a “thief” who had stolen the $2,000 in Vegas. Wei Lee was ordered to pay the highest amount of damages, $130,000, because, according to the judge, Mr Justice Rothman, his behavior was “vicious and malicious.”Â
The judge criticized the defendants, singling out Ryall who, he said, had been “deliberately prevaricating, dissembling and lying” throughout the hearing. Ryall admitted twice giving false evidence while under oath and was ordered to $125,000 in damages.
The judge said that ultimately the four defendants had failed to prove that the allegations they made against Polias were true, which was their only defense.
“The money was never stolen … the money was never missing. The money was in the soft toy,” he said.
The award of aggravated damages was appropriate, continued the judge, because all four defendants had refused to apologize, and had failed to remove the Facebook posts. While the communications were seen by a limited amount of people, the damage was increased because those party to the accusations constituted of almost all of Polias’ social contacts within the poker world.Â
The court heard that one of the defendants, Sandy Jan, had repeated the accusations to around 25 poker players at a Chinese restaurant at the Star. She denied this, despite a witness providing evidence to the contrary, and was ordered to pay $50,000Â in damages.
“I’m ecstatic; it’s far exceeded my expectations,” said Polias, outside the court. “But more so, I’m just elated that my reputation has been restored; it’s never really been about the money; it’s just been about clearing my reputation.”
He also warned others to think before they write potentially libelous accusations of Facebook. “People should be very careful about what they write on social media because it spreads like wildfire and it can be really damaging to someone because it stays on Facebook for a long time,” he said.