‘Sunday World’ told to pay lorry driver €225,000 damages.
Newspaper defamed driver involved in fatal road crash, High Court jury rules
A lorry driver has been awarded €225,000 by a High Court jury after it found his reputation had been damaged by a Sunday World article concerning a fatal road collision.
The jury found that Stephen Kelly (36), The Rower, Kilkenny, was defamed by the article, published in July 2009.
It carried comments by Liam Norris, the father of Graham Norris (26), who died on October 12th, 2005, when his car crashed into an articulated lorry being driven by Mr Kelly at Ashtown Cross, Waterford.
The lorry was making a difficult turn, during darkness, into a narrow road leading to a wood where Mr Kelly was picking up timber.
Mr Kelly had claimed his lights were working when he got into his vehicle that day and that, while side reflective markings were dirty, they were visible.
Sunday Newspapers, publishers of the Sunday World, denied defamation and said the words in the article were true. The paper disputed Mr Kelly’s claims concerning the lights and reflective markings.
Mr Kelly was acquitted in 2007 at Waterford Circuit Court of dangerous driving causing death. He was convicted of failing to have a road-worthiness certificate for his vehicle and of not having a proper under-running bar on the truck to prevent cars going underneath it.
Mr Kelly claimed the article, which included comments from Liam Norris about Mr Kelly having shown “no mercy” over Graham’s death, meant that he had misled the jury in the criminal trial and that he was a callous person.
The defamation case was heard over five days before a jury of seven men and five women.
After about two and a half hours’ deliberation, the jury decided that the article meant Mr Kelly was a callous person, indifferent to the loss of the Norris family. It also decided it meant Mr Kelly deliberately misled the Circuit Court jury in Waterford. It found that the newspaper had not proven he was a callous person and indifferent, and had also not proven he misled the Waterford jury.
It found that his reputation had been damaged having regard to the remaining matters in the article and held that the words in it were not fair comment on a matter of public interest. It assessed damages at €225,000.
Mr McCullough SC, for Sunday Newspapers, asked for a stay on the award and costs while his side considered an appeal.
Mr Justice White noted that a number of personal injury cases had been overturned by the Court of Appeal in which previously successful plaintiffs who had got payments were ordered to pay the money back. He granted a stay on the award and costs, with the provision, if there is an appeal, that both sides had liberty to apply to waive the stay.
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