Farmer awarded €300,000 damages, plus interest, after Department failed to return seized cattle
A farmer is entitled to some €299,000 damages, plus interest, over the Department of Agriculture's failure to return 233 of 355 cattle seized from his farm following a dispute about their welfare, the Supreme Court has ruled.
In a case dating back to 2006, the Department had appealed a High Court decision assessing damages for Co Tipperary farmer John Hanrahan at €304,320, plus interest, but did not appeal findings he was entitled to damages over its failure to return the cattle, which it sold.
An expert for Mr Hanrahan put his damages at €834,638 before interest but an expert for the Department calculated his losses at €1,979 or "virtually nil".
While not criticising the individual experts in this "difficult case, such a "high ball-low ball" approach was an example of a "more widespread phenomenon" raising issues about expert evidence, its acceptance and treatment, Mr Justice Donal O'Donnell noted in his Supreme Court judgment.
The costs of the seven day High Court case to assess damages may outweigh the actual damages, he observed.
This was no criticism of the High Court judge, who had to allow the sides make whatever cases they wished, "however unrealistic".
It was difficult to believe justice "may not have been done more cheaply" if a "more focused and realistic" approach was taken by the parties.
In this case, Mr Hanrahan's method of conducting his business during the relevant period was "somewhat unorthodox" and it appeared the assessment of damages was on the basis there were no relevant books, records or even tax returns establishing the profitability or otherwise of his farm during the period, the judge said.