Tuesday 20 February 2018

Sisters asked off bus to Knock lose defamation action

The High Court, Dublin
The High Court, Dublin

Tim Healy

Two sisters who sued over being asked to get off a bus have lost their High Court action for damages for defamation and loss of reputation.

Bernadette Curtis and Joan Dardis, and several family members, were asked by a garda to get off the bus at Busaras in Dublin on June 23, 2013, following exchanges with the driver over payment of fares for all of their group. They were on their way to visit Knock shrine in Co Mayo.

Their case against Bus Eireann was dismissed in the Circuit Court and they appealed to the High Court.

Dismissing their appeal, Mr Justice Max Barrett said the sisters were regular visitors to Knock and intended to go there with Ms Dardis’ adult daughter Jennifer and other family members, including Jennifer’s children, a toddler and nine-year-old boy.

Both sisters used free travel passes but, while Ms Curtis was entitled to do so because she has a disability, Ms Dardis was improperly travelling on a carer’s pass as the person she had cared for died some years previously, he said.

Jennifer Dardis got on the bus with her toddler resting on her shoulder and the driver agreed to let her settle the child before returning to pay the fares. When she did not return, he went to collect the fares.

The judge rejected the sisters’ evidence Jennifer Dardis sent her nine-year-old son with a €50 note to pay the driver who refused to take money from a child. He accepted the driver’s evidence that did not happen.

Both sisters gave inconsistent accounts of what they alleged happened next, he said.

He accepted “entirely coherent” evidence of the driver that he came down the bus, asked for payment, was refused, went to get an inspector and had not lost his temper.

He also accepted the evidence of a garda who requested them to get off while the dispute was resolved.

However, no offer to pay the fare was made. The bus then left without the family who took a taxi to Heuston station, got a train to Claremorris and travelled on to Knock.

The judge ruled there was no legal basis for the sisters’ claims the driver failed to inquire politely of the circumstances, made innuendos they had failed or refused to buy a fare, injured their character and reputation and was guilty of negligence.

Bus Eireann argued, given a “multiplicity of dishonesty offences” of which Ms Dardis was convicted in the past, and one public order offence against Ms Curtis, they had little or no reputation that could be sued upon in defamation, he noted.

The judge granted an application by Bus Eireann for costs against the sisters.

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