An AER LINGUS pilot whose jury award of 387,000 euros was reduced to 76,500 euros on appeal was raised by the Supreme Court to 202,500 euros.
Britain presents a new award to Captain Padraig Higgins, including 175,000 euros for general damages, ending the nine-year legal battle of Airbus pilots.
In November 2019, Captain Higgins, of Enfield, Co Meath, was found by a High Court jury to defame the Irish Aviation Authority in three emails sent by the IAA in 2013.
The court said he was a senior pilot for Aer Lingus, who also flew single-engine aircraft in his spare time.
The emails were sent following an incident in which he had to make an emergency landing of a light aircraft in Wales.
It was assumed that the emails meant he was flying the plane illegally despite his paperwork being complete in order and in the case of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, following an investigation, consider the case closed.
The IAA eventually issued an apology – which Captain Higgins said came six and a half years too late – and a “revised offer” was made.
In the end, the matter of amendment was brought before a Supreme Court jury, who awarded him €387,000, including €300,000 in general punitive damages..
The IAA appealed and in June 2020 the Court of Appeal (CoA) cut it down to €76,500, including €70,000 for general damages plus €6,500 for heavier damages..
Captain Higgins requested and was granted permission by the Supreme Court to appeal further.
Today, the Supreme Court of five judges, in a four-to-one decision, granted his appeal and substitute a separate award of €202,500, including €175,000 in joint damages.
The majority decision was made by Mr. Justice John MacMenamin, with whom Mrs. Justice Elizabeth Dunne concurred, and Mrs. Justice Marie Baker and Mr. Justice Seamus Woulfe partly concurred and also agreed with the replaced award.
Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan disagrees and thinks that a total loss award of 103,500 euros is appropriate.
Key issues in the appeal include how the motion for amendment works and the guidance a trial judge should give a jury to assist in determining libel damages.
There is also the issue of the appropriate circumstances under which the appellate court should reserve the jury award.
Mr. Justice MacMenamin said the defamation Act of 2009 provided for an appellate court to replace its own ruling as it deems appropriate.
“There is no legislative intent under the act to change the pre-existing judicial practice of respecting jury awards,” he said.
Responding to Mr. Justice Hogan’s observations on the issue of free speech against defamation, Mr. Justice MacMenamin said that because the defamatory comments in this case were neither true nor based on belief, they are not protected under the same constitution as expressions of conviction or opinion.
However, he found that in awarding the majority (€300,000) of €387,000, the Supreme Court was fundamentally different from the pertinent parameters of the case and that it was not defamation to the extent the highest of the cases,
He decided that although the award should be set aside, it should not be turned over for reassessment by a jury and that courts should not impede the public interest in concluding a case.
He found the CoA wrong to cut the overall damages to €70,000 for “very serious defamation” and that the appropriate figure for this was €175,000. An additional €50,000 for heavier damages and a 10pc discount for the IAA’s revised offer, which brought the amount to €202,500.
In his dissenting ruling, Mr. Justice Hogan said the law had moved from its previous position when appellate courts should be slow to interfere with jury decisions in libel.
This reflects the importance of freedom of speech under the Constitution, he said.
The defamation act suggests Oireachtas wants the judiciary to have a larger role in determining damages, he said.
The defamation in this case falls under the “intermediate” category of defamation cases, so a reward of €100,000 for general damages is more appropriate, he said. He left the CoA’s €15,000 for more serious damages undisturbed.
10pc discount for the revised offer, the total amount of which he will reward goes up to 103,500 €.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/aer-lingus-pilot-whose-387000-defamation-award-was-cut-on-appeal-to-76500-has-had-it-increased-again-by-supreme-court-41420663.html Pilot Aer Lingus whose reward of 387,000 euros for defamation was cut on appeal to 76,500 euros has been increased again by the Supreme Court