Apology and damages in “serious financial loss” claim

Hodge Jones & Allen LLP and Times Newspapers Ltd settle action brought under s.1(2) Defamation Act 2013

Hodge Jones & Allen LLP (HJA) on Monday 24 November 2014 received an apology and substantial compensation in respect of an article published in June 2014 on the front page of The Times. This is believed to be the first occasion when a corporate claimant, which has to overcome the higher test for harm to reputation under s. 1(2) of the Defamation Act 2013 (of the harm having caused or being likely to cause serious financial loss), has obtained substantial damages in a claim brought under the new Act.

In the article, the newspaper claimed the firm was being sued by a former client for negligence in relation to a MMR vaccine claim. HJA issued proceedings for libel and malicious falsehood after The Times refused to take down the article from its website or publish a correction. As part of the settlement a statement was read out in the High Court on Monday 24 November 2014 by Justin Rushbrooke QC on behalf of HJA.

The statement included the following:

“The article stated that the Claimant was being sued by its former client Matthew McCafferty for substantial damages for negligence and ‘unjust enrichment as officers of the Court’ in relation to a claim relating to the MMR vaccine. This was incorrect. The Claimant was threatened with proceedings by Mr McCafferty’s lawyers, many years after it ceased to act for him, but no such proceedings have to date been issued. At the time of the article the Claimant had informed Mr McCafferty’s lawyers that any proceedings would be robustly defended. Furthermore it categorically rejects any suggestion that it was guilty of negligence, in particular the allegation that it pursued a case which it knew or should have known was hopeless, or that its lawyers improperly enriched themselves out of public funds.

The true position is that in 1998 legal aid funding was granted to Hodge Jones & Allen for the purposes of investigating with experts a claim for damages on behalf of many children who were suffering from conditions such as autism following the administration of the MMR vaccine. Mr McCafferty instructed the Claimant in 2000 and had the benefit of these investigations. Whilst the possibility of a causal link between MMR and autism was subsequently widely discredited, on the basis of the expert evidence then available there was absolutely no reason to conclude at the time that such claims were hopeless.”

The settlement of HJA’s action was the second time in six months that the firm has won an apology and damages from The Times. In April this year, the firm settled with the newspaper following an article  concerning the firm’s contribution to compensation proposals for Magdalene laundries victims.

HJA were represented by Justin Rushbrooke QC and Gervase de Wilde, both of 5RB.