Ireland’s first major Data Protection Civil Litigation Case.
Ireland’s Experience with Civil Litigation
Ireland saw its first major data protection civil litigation case in 2012. Fintan Lawlor from Lawlor Partners in Dublin — who represented the plaintiff — told PL&B that the case secured €15,000 in damages for breach of Ireland’s Data Protection Act 1998 and 2003 at the Circuit Court, but the decision was subsequently overturned by the High Court.
A policy holder, Michael Collins, a painter and decorator, had brought a claim against insurance company, FBD. Collins had a motor insurance policy with FBD for his work van. But when making a claim under his insurance policy for a theft of this vehicle, FBD refused to pay, claiming Collins had not disclosed a previous criminal conviction on the policy application
Collins first made a Subject Access Request to FBD, and subsequently complained to the Irish DP Commissioner about the refusal to hand over information.
The Commissioner investigated and made a formal decision that FBD had breached Section 4 of the DP Act by failing to provide all relevant personal data to Collins within 40 days of his request.
Representing Collins, Lawlor found out that FBD had commissioned a private investigator to snoop on Collins in connection with a previous criminal conviction. This led to a second complaint being made by Collins to the Commissioner.
Lawlor contacted FBD to see if the case could be settled. The case was taken to trial in the Circuit Court. The jurisdiction of the court (at the time) was between €6 – €38K, but the Court had never made an order for damages under the Data Protection legislation before.
Although FBD did not dispute the breach of DP Act, it appealed to the High Court against the award of damages. The judge found that Collins had not suffered any provable damages connected to FBD’s breaches of the DP Act, and overturned the previous award of €15,000 made by the Circuit Court.
“The decision in the Collins case was disappointing. It was fair and reasonable that Collins receive some compensation for the breaches committed and admitted by FBD. Perhaps an award of €15,000 was overly generous but Collins should have been entitled to some measure of damages.
The case was unprecedented and a difficult question was posed,” Lawlor said. However, Lawlor welcomed the judgment of the High Court as it had “given clarity” to section 7 of the Data Protection Act “highlighting that compensation may be
awarded where damages can be proven”.
Lawlor said he is now preparing three more civil litigation cases, seeking damages for breaches of the Data Protection Act.
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