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27.10.14

Lady Gaga pony libel claim settled

On 21 October 2014, the High Court considered a libel claim surrounding a polo pony named Lady Gaga in the case of Louisa Donovan and Katie Gibbons [2014] EWHC 3406 (QB).  His Honour Judge Richard Parkes QC was asked to determine the meaning of a caption that accompanied Youtube videos of Lady Gaga bucking.

The Defendant had purchased a polo pony, named Lady Gaga, from the Claimant, who trades under the name of PharmaPoloPonies, in September 2012.  She had purchased the pony for her children but had tried to return Lady Gaga to the Claimant when she found it unsuitable for them to ride.  The Claimant had refused to take back the pony and so the Defendant posted three videos on Youtube in 2013 of the pony bucking with a caption that stated: “Pharmapoloponies.com Louise Donovan sold this polo pony as being suitable for children.  Downright dangerous and a scandal they get away with this.”

The videos remained accessible on the site until February 2014.  The Claimant sued the Defendant in libel and the claim was defended on the basis of honest opinion and honest comment.  Both defences were potentially applicable as the videos were posted before the Defamation Act 2013 came into force but remained available after it had done so on 1 January 2014.

The Judge rejected the Defendant’s submissions that the caption constituted comment and/or review rather than fact.  He said:-

“In this case, the dangerousness of the pony is clear from the videos, which shows the animal bucking and rearing.  That is a given.  Coupled with the first sentence of the words complained of, that tells the viewer that the claimant sold a dangerous polo pony as being suitable for children.  As I have said already, I have no difficulty in characterising that allegation as an allegation of fact.”

The Judge went on to say that the caption imputed knowledge that the ‘unsafe’ behaviour of the pony was characteristic and, therefore, known to the Claimant at the point of sale.  This was reinforced by the use of the word ‘scandal’ within the caption.  By reaching that conclusion, the Judge held that it was his view that the ordinary reasonable person watching the Youtube video would have concluded that the Claimant sold the pony as being suitable for children knowing that this was not the case.  He said that this ‘conduct would plainly entail a reckless preparedness to put the children at risk’.  He found that the meaning was, therefore, that which had been pleaded by the Claimant and that it was unarguably defamatory of the Claimant in both a personal and business sense.

The Judge did not consider whether the Claimant had met the serious harm threshold which has been instituted by section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013 for the publication of the video and caption post 1 January 2014. 

The case was settled out of court with the Defendant agreeing to pay costs and damages after the Judge’s ruling on the meaning of the words.


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