Woman sued over personal pledge in €16m case
A KILDARE developer's wife, being sued by Ulster Bank for €16.3m over her personal guarantee of the liabilities of a company, has an arguable defence, a top judge ruled yesterday.
In the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly asked why anyone "in their right mind" would sign personal guarantees for unlimited liabilities.
He said Deirdre O'Neill had made out a defence related to whether the bank should have ensured she had independent legal advice regarding the consequences of signing an unlimited guarantee.
He also noted Mrs O'Neill, a mother of three, had undertaken not to dilute her interest in the family home, of which she is the sole owner, at Osberstown Lodge, Osberstown, Naas.
In those circumstances, and stressing he was only required at this stage to decide if Mrs O'Neill had an arguable defence, the judge directed that the case go to a full hearing.
Earlier this week, the judge granted summary judgment for €16.3m to Ulster Bank against Eugene O'Neill, husband of Mrs O'Neill, arising from his January 2006 personal guarantee of the liabilities of one of his companies, Apex Estates Ltd.
The bank has appointed a receiver to the company over non-payment of loans.
The bank also sought summary judgment against Mrs O'Neill but the court was told yesterday that she had not understood the significance of what she was signing, received no legal advice on the matter and had left all business affairs to her husband.
But it was argued that Mrs O'Neill was a director of 11 companies with her husband, an educated person and a qualified nurse.
She had signed a large number of documents in her capacity as a company director and there was no allegation of undue influence or misrepresentation.
In an affidavit, Mrs O'Neill said her husband had added her as "a matter of course" as a director for other companies set up by him on the advice of his accountants.
Her husband had stressed that adding her as a director was "a mere formality" and she had no need to concern herself with the affairs of the company. "I trust my husband and did not consider myself to be his business partner," she said.
"I would never have willingly taken any steps that would put my family home at risk, particularly as we have three children still at home."