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INDUSTRY FOCUS

Defamation case over M&S bag thrown out by Irish court

A judge has dismissed a woman’s €75,000 damages claim for defamation, which was brought after she was asked whether she had paid €1 for a Marks and Spencer (M&S) shopping bag.

Judge John O’Connor described the case as completely over the top in the Circuit Civil Court, saying that a store check-out operator asking someone if they had paid for a bag did not give rise to a defamation action.

Carer Karina Fowler said she had become embarrassed, shocked and upset when she was asked at the M&S check-out in the Jervis Street Shopping Centre if she could prove that she had paid for the ‘Bag for Life’.

When cross-examined by Elizabeth Jane Walsh, counsel for M&S, Fowler denied that she started screaming and shouting when the till operator asked if she should scan the bag.  She said she had been the only one in the queue to have been asked.

Fowler said she was a regular shopper at M&S in the Jervis Centre and when she had told the attendant that she had brought the bag with her, she said she was told: “Prove it, you will have to produce a receipt.”

She said she had started to cry and had become very upset and after having her purchases scanned had asked for the manager. She claimed the manager told her she should not have been singled out.

The M&S check-out operator Stephanie McDermott said she had asked Fowler “will I take for the bag?” and she had replied “no”.

McDermott then asked her if she had a receipt and, when Fowler replied “no”, she had said “okay”.

“The bag was a brand new bag and that’s why I asked her,” McDermott said. “I would normally ask a customer and scan new bags.”

McDermott said she was dealing with her next customer when Fowler had asked for the manager, and when a supervisor arrived, Fowler told her she had been accused in the wrong.

She said it was store policy to scan every bag, but she would not do so when it was obvious that the bag was an old one. She also denied having told Fowler to prove that the bag was hers.

Walsh, who appeared with Miley and Miley Solicitors for M&S, told the court that within a week of the incident, the store had received a solicitor’s letter stating Fowler had been defamed and was claiming damages.

Dismissing Fowler’s case, Judge O’Connor said her pleadings had also included a claim that she had been falsely imprisoned and there had been no evidence whatsoever in relation to that. This, he said, was clearly over the top.

“Clearly Ms Fowler is a sensitive woman and I accept she became upset,” Judge O’Connor said. “But the fact she was upset doesn’t give rise to a defamation action and asking someone had they paid for a bag was not defamation.”

Judge O’Connor made no order for costs but warned that in future claims where there was no evidence of defamation he would award costs against the plaintiff.

 

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