Warning over email libels as lecturer settles historic case
EMPLOYEES who defame their colleagues via email risk a criminal prosecution in the wake of the settlement of a landmark case.
In the first action of its kind in Ireland, a college lecturer obtained an apology from two fellow academics following an email that impugned his professional reputation.
Terry Casey, a lecturer in marketing at the school of business in the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), is also to receive substantial damages arising out of an email attachment circulated in January 2005, the High Court heard yesterday.
It was sent by the head of Mr Casey's department, Larry Elwood, to 47 other GMIT staff and recirculated the following day to a different group by Mr Elwood's deputy Deirdre Lusby.
Legal experts last night warned many employees did not realise the significance of emails, and the impact they can have in a court action.
Employers' groups also warned that companies have to have strict rules and regulations in place to govern how staff deal with emails.
Mr Casey, of Barna, Galway, brought the defamation action against Mr Elwood, Ms Lusby and GMIT.
It was due to be heard in the High Court earlier this week, but was adjourned when no court was available. Yesterday, lawyers for both sides told Mr Justice Eamon DeValera that the case had been settled and could be struck out.
Paul Coffey, for Mr Elwood and Ms Lusby, read an apology stating the defendants published remarks defamatory of Mr Casey "in the way of his office, calling and profession as a lecturer" in GMIT.
"These allegations were entirely without foundation and have caused the plaintiff considerable distress, anxiety and upset," the apology said.
"The defendants and each of them accept their serious error in publishing these defamatory remarks."
They wished to "withdraw the imputations and unreservedly and publicly apologise" to Mr Casey.
The defendants agreed to pay a substantial sum in damages and costs, the apology added.
Mr Casey, who is still employed at GMIT, said he was "overjoyed" at the outcome.
"The settlement of this case to my fullest satisfaction is a complete vindication of my reputation," he said.
"It has caused me great personal distress to take these proceedings in the first place, but such was the concerted assault on my reputation, integrity and good name that I had no alternative."
He thanked his legal team, friends, colleagues and family for their support.
GMIT, Mr Elwood and Ms Lusby could not be contacted for comment.
This case is the first civil action involving a libel by email that has reached conclusion in Irish legal history. There have been a number of libels involving the internet where actions were taken following posts on message boards.
Last night, solicitor and law lecturer TJ McIntyre said there was no difference between defaming a person by email and by a letter.
"The difficulty with email is that people treat it as a very informal medium and they say things that they wouldn't say in the context of a printed document, not necessarily realising there is a record of what they have said and that that record may come back to haunt them," he said. "You may get more ill-judged comments that you would in a more formal context and that is a real risk."