Geoffrey Rush and his accuser Eryn Jean Norvill

Geoffrey Rush and his accuser Eryn Jean Norvill
Geoffrey Rush holds the record for the largest defamation payout to a single person in Australia after The Daily Telegraph agreed to pay the actor almost $2 million for lost earnings, on top of an $850,000 payout, for a series of reports accusing him of "inappropriate behaviour" towards a female actor.

On Thursday, the Federal Court heard that lawyers for Mr Rush and Nationwide News, the publisher of the Telegraph, had agreed the Oscar winner should receive $1.98 million in damages for past and future economic loss resulting from the reports.

The court heard Mr Rush had previously offered to settle the case for $50,000, plus costs, and an apology.

The $1.98 million figure is in addition to $850,000 in compensatory and aggravated damages, plus $42,302 in interest, that Federal Court Justice Michael Wigney previously awarded Mr Rush to vindicate his reputation and compensate him for the "personal distress and hurt" caused by the reports.

Damages for economic loss are in a separate category and require proof of particular loss.

While the latest figure was reached by agreement, Nationwide News has launched an appeal against Justice Wigney's decision rejecting their defence of truth and delivering a comprehensive victory to Mr Rush.

It wants an appeal bench to enter judgment in its favour - which would mean the total damages figure would be overturned - or order that there be a retrial before a new judge.

After the Victorian Court of Appeal slashed actor Rebel Wilson's damages payout last year from $4.5 million to $600,000 over defamatory articles in Woman's Day magazine and related publications, prominent Perth barrister Lloyd Rayney's $2.6 million payout was the largest-ever defamation award in Australia to a single person.

Broadcaster Alan Jones and radio stations 2GB and 4BC were ordered last year to pay a total of $3.7 million in damages for defamation to four members of the Darling Downs-based Wagner family, or $938,746 each.

Mr Rush now holds the record for the largest payout to a single plaintiff, although his $2.87 million payout is substantially lower than the figures previously suggested by his legal team, totalling up to $20 million for 10 years of estimated lost earnings.

Actor Eryn Jean Norvill, who appeared opposite Mr Rush in the Sydney Theatre Company's 2015-16 production of King Lear, gave evidence during the trial that the actor sexually harassed her including by stroking down the side of her right breast to her hip during a preview performance of the play in late 2015.

Ms Norvill, who was not named in the Telegraph's stories, did not cooperate with the newspaper before the articles were published and only agreed at a late stage to give evidence in court.

Mr Rush vehemently denied the claims and Justice Wigney accepted his evidence, including that he "never intentionally touched Ms Norvill's breast". Justice Wigney said he considered that allegation "somewhat implausible and improbable".

He said the Telegraph had failed to establish a defence of truth to any of its claims and labelled the reports "a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of ... the very worst kind".

Later on Thursday, Justice Wigney rejected an application by the Telegraph asking him to stand down from hearing the final matter in the case, relating to an injunction sought by Mr Rush to stop the newspaper re-publishing allegations at the centre of the case.

"I am not satisfied that there is any basis to recuse myself and I decline to do so," Justice Wigney said.

Mr Rush's barrister, Sue Chrysanthou, said the Telegraph had "thrown caution to the wind, in a way that is completely uncommercial, to persist in this defamation against my client" after the judgment was delivered, and shown a "complete lack of impartiality and lack of commercial sense".

But Tom Blackburn, SC, for the Telegraph, said Mr Rush was "trying to shut down any criticism of the judgment".

Justice Wigney reserved his judgment on the application for a permanent injunction. A temporary injunction remains in place in the meantime.