Full case report

Donovan v Gibbons

Reference [2014] EWHC 3406
Court High Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge HHJ Judge Parkes QC (sitting as a Judge of the High Court)

Date of Judgment 21 Oct 2014


Summary

Ruling on meaning and comment


Facts

The Claimant sold the Defendant a polo pony named Lady Gaga. The Defendant was not happy with the pony. The Defendant arranged for three videos to be posted on YouTube which showed the pony bucking whilst being lunged. Each was captioned: “Pharmapoloponies.com Louisa Donovan sold this polo pony as being suitable for children. Downright dangerous and a scandal they get away with this.” The Claimant sued for libel.


Issue

Were the words and images allegations of fact or comment and what was their defamatory meaning?


Held

(1) The words and images complained of contained an allegation of fact: that the Claimant sold a dangerous pony as being suitable for children. This was defamatory, falling into the one of the categories of “business defamation” set out by Tugendhat J in Thornton v Telegraph Media Group [2011] 1 WLR 1985 [34].

(2) The words and images imputed knowledge to the Claimant that the pony was dangerous and unsuitable at the point of sale, bearing the meaning that the Claimant recklessly placed the safety of children at risk by selling a dangerous pony as being suitable for use with children when she must have known it was not.


Comment

As the claim was issued after 1 January 2014 it did not fall to be tried with a jury, therefore the issues could be decided by the Judge at an early stage, although, as the majority of the publications complained of took place in 2013 the issues were decided under the common law as it existed prior to the Defamation Act 2013.

Shortly after the decision the case settled, with the Claimant securing damages, an apology and the payment of her legal costs. This is another example of the way in which early rulings on meaning, and other issues traditionally the province of the jury, are likely to make libel claims quicker and cheaper.


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Instructing Solicitors

Carter-Ruck for the Claimant, Payne Hicks Beach for the Defendant


Links

Lady Gaga the polo pony in High Court libel battle: Daily Telegraph
Polo pony ‘Lady Gaga’ at centre of libel case: Horse and Hound
Lady Gaga, my little sweetie: Henley Standard