Impact of Covid-19 on losses in libel case
Matthew Howe 16-02-2021
In the recent case of Kim v Lee  EWHC 231 (QB), Mrs Justice Steyn considered the extent to which the Covid-19 pandemic may have impacted the Claimant’s loss of income as a result of the alleged defamation.
The claim arose from publications by the Defendant of numerous posts on Facebook and Instagram between 6 and 11 December 2018. Both the Claimant and Defendant were domiciled in the UK and worked as football reporters and journalists for Korean companies which delivered international football news to South Korea.
Interestingly, as the publications were made in Korean, Steyn J first had to consider their translation into English and then determine if the translated meanings were capable of being defamatory at common law.
Within her judgment, Steyn J found in favour of the Claimant and awarded general damages of £44,000. The Claimant had submitted a schedule of loss which included the loss of income which they said they had suffered as a result of the defamatory publication. When assessing this loss of income, Steyn J considered the impact of the ongoing pandemic and said:
"I raised the issue of the extent to which the Claimant's income as a reporter might have been reduced, in any event, by the Covid-19 pandemic… The Claimant did not believe there would have been any reduction due to the pandemic.
In my judgment, it is likely that there would have been some reduction in the Claimant's income due to the pandemic, but it is probable that his income would have reduced by a similar amount, and for the same reasons, as Ms Hur's income reduced. I therefore find that the Claimant's loss of income is £30,850, plus interest on special damages of 2.5% per annum from the mid point of the period of loss."
In what is a topical and very relevant judgment, the court has acknowledged that external circumstances, such as Covid-19, can and will be taken into consideration when losses are assessed.
This may prove to be particularly relevant in the case of businesses claiming for loss of income in defamation claims during the pandemic. Defendants will no doubt look to rely upon the argument that any business would have suffered a loss of income since March 2020 regardless of their defamatory publications.