Sunday 17 November 2019

Irish Aviation Authority to pay damages to Aer Lingus pilot it defamed in series of emails

Four Courts
Four Courts
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has apologised in the High Court to an Aer Lingus pilot it defamed in emails the authority sent to organisations including the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority.

The IAA has accepted that the statements circulated were “false and defamatory”.

The defamatory emails emerged from communications sent by the Civil Aviation Authority about an incident involving Padraig Higgins when he was flying a microlight aircraft in the UK.

“In 2013, the Irish Aviation Authority published several statements internally and to external agencies which contained false and defamatory statements concerning Captain Higgins,” noted the apology, which was read out in court today after a jury was sworn in this week to assess damages in the case.

“The IAA accepts that these statements were unsubstantiated and caused Captain Higgins upset and reputational damage,” it added.

The apology continued: “The IAA acknowledges that Captain Higgins is a person of high personal and professional integrity and did nothing to warrant this unwanted attention. The IAA acknowledges Captain Higgins’ role in contributing to improvements in air safety.”

Pic: Aer Lingus
Pic: Aer Lingus

The IAA formally retracted all the defamatory statements and said it apologised “unreservedly” for them. It also said it “regrets the length of time it took to reach a resolution”.

The authority has agreed to pay Mr Higgins damages.

The amount will be determined by the jury.

The apology read out in court will be circulated to 13 individuals as well as the Commissioner for the Garda Síochána, and the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners.

Mr Higgins had originally accepted an offer of amends from the IAA under the 2009 defamation act, but the parties were unable to subsequently agree the terms of the offer.

If an offer of amends is refused, the matter can then be referred to the High Court for resolution.

The offer of amends by the IAA had included the intention by the authority to publish a correction and apology, and to pay damages and costs as might be determined or agreed.

With the two sides unable to agree to terms, Mr Higgins then requested that a High Court jury assess the amount of damages he was entitled to.

The IAA opposed that move.

However, the High Court ruled in 2016 that Mr Higgins was entitled to have a jury determine how much he should receive in damages.

The IAA appealed that to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the High Court's ruling.

The IAA then brought the matter to the Supreme Court which ultimately said the jury should decide.

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