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Court of Appeal reduces the sum awarded by jury in defamation proceedings

By: Colm Scott Byrne BL

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Court of Appeal allows appeal in part and overturns decision of a jury in defamation proceedings that awarded the respondent €300,000 in respect of general damages, and €130,000 in respect of aggravated damages, which was discounted by 10% as a result of an offer to make amends, resulting in a net sum of €387,000, and: (i) overturns the decision of the jury to award that sum on the grounds that the sum awarded by the jury for general compensatory damages was so unreasonable as to be disproportionate to the injury sustained; (ii) proceeded to assess damages rather than remit the matter to the High Court and awards 70,000 in general damages and €15,000 aggravated damages and (iii) upholds the decision of the jury to apply a 10% discount to the award, on the grounds that: (a) the appellant took almost two years to make its offer of amends; and (b) the appellant then demonstrated a high handed approach to negotiations in refusing to meet with the respondent for discussions after the respondent had rejected the appellant’s offer of compensation.

Binchy J (nem diss): Appeal of an award in damages made by a jury in favour of the plaintiff in defamation proceedings - the award was made by a jury, and followed upon an offer of amends made by the appellant to the respondent pursuant to s.22 of the Defamation Act 2009 - the offer of amends was accepted by the respondent but the parties could not reach an agreement on the amount of damages - the respondent was a pilot who is a alight aircraft enthusiast in his leisure time - the respondent and some friends were flying two microlight aircraft from Italy to Ireland but were forced to make an emergency landing near Swansea owing to poor visibility - both aircraft landed safely although the respondent’s plane hit a small block causing some damage to the nose wheel and propeller - an investigation was carried out into whether the respondent had complied with all regulations - the UK authorities, after the investigation, that everything was in order and no further would be taken - the appellant corresponded with the UK authorities and three emails in particular were alleged to contain defamatory statements - an offer of amends was made but no agreement could be made with regards to the amount of compensation - matter came on for hearing before a jury and the respondent was awarded €300,000 in respect of general damages, and €130,000 in respect of aggravated damages - the jury decided in view of the offer of amends, the appellant should be given a discount on the damages so awarded of 10% which resulted in a net overall award to the respondent in the sum of €387,000 - whether the awards of both general damages and aggravated damages were unreasonable, excessive and disproportionate - whether the level of discount afforded to the appellant was deficient in all the circumstances - Court reduces award made by jury to 70,000 in general damages and €15,000 aggravated damages - Court upholds decision to apply a 10% discount - Court makes an award in favour of the respondent in the reduced amount of €76,500.

Note: This is intended to be a fair and accurate report of a decision made public by a court of law. Any errors should be notified to the editor and will be dealt with accordingly.

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