Charities and internal investigations
A Spanish GP based in the United Kingdom, Dr. Jose Antonio Serrano Garcia, was awarded damages of £45,000 following his libel action against the Daily Mail.
Dr. Serrano brought proceedings in the High Court following the publication of an article in the Daily Mail by Kelvin McKenzie entitled “A whole year of hell, thanks to a foreign doctor”. In his article Mr. Mackenzie suggested that Dr. Serrano Garcia had misdiagnosed bus driver Mr. Kevin Jones as alcohol dependent without any further tests or medical evidence in support and subsequently reported him to the DVLA who revoked his driving licence. Mr. Jones claimed that he had told Dr. Serrano that he was just a “social drinker” but that due to a “language barrier” he had misunderstood him.
The Daily Mail raised defences of justification and honest comment.
In a judgment handed down on 10 June 2014 at the Royal Courts of Justice (Garcia v Associated Newspapers  EWHC 3137 (QB)) Mr. Justice Dingemans held that the article bore the following five defamatory meanings:
None of the defamatory meanings were found to be true.
In relation to the first defamatory meaning the Judge held that:
In relation to the second defamatory meaning, the Judge held that Dr. Serrano was entitled to report Mr. Jones to DVLA and it was not wrong or inappropriate for him to do so.
In relation to the third defamatory meaning, the Judge held that Dr. Serrano did not unreasonably refuse to persuade the DVLA to revoke its decision, which the Judge found to have been a correct and sound decision.
In relation to the fourth defamatory meaning, the Judge found that Dr. Serrano was genuinely and properly concerned about patient confidentiality.
Finally, the statement that Dr. Serrano’s conduct was “shocking” was comment but was based on statements of fact which were not privileged and had not been shown to be true (or sufficiently true).
The Judge did note that there were relevant omissions made by Dr. Serrano in his letter dated 11 February 2011 sent to the DVLA, but that this findings did not satisfy the provisions of section 5 of the Defamation Act. This is because there are important differences between being wrongly accused of reporting someone without evidence to show persistent abuse of alcohol on the one hand, and it being said that the reporting letter, which was properly sent, should have contained more information.
The Judge accepted Dr. Serrano’s evidence as to the effect of the article on him and that his resignation was in part influenced by the article but refused to make an award of aggravated damages on the basis that he found that the defence of justification had been properly raised and in good faith.
By Kristina Morgan, Paralegal, Dispute Resolution
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