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Insurer ordered to pay costs in data breach case

A High Court judgement is being hailed as a landmark ruling which makes businesses legally liable for data protection breaches.

Image: Insurance policy document via Shutterstock

THE INSURANCE COMPANY FBD has been ordered to pay High Court costs to a man following a case in which he claimed his data protection rights had been breached.

The High Court last week vacated the Circuit Court award of €15,000 in damages to Michael Collins in March 2012 but did rule that there had been a clear and intentional breach of data protection legislation as a result of FBD’s actions and awarded him costs in the case.

The case concerned a claim that Collins made nearly five years ago when his work van was stolen outside his home in Finglas, north Dublin in September 2008.

Collins lodged a claim with FBD for loss of work as a result of not having the van for three months until it was later recovered and his claim was withdrawn.

However during that period FBD declined to deal with his claim on the basis of confidential information it had obtained about him concerning a previous conviction against him.

The insurer failed to disclose this information to Collins in accordance with data protection law and was later ordered to pay him €15,000 in damages.

FBD had argued that there had been gross non-compliance by Collins who had an obligation to disclose the information concerning his previous conviction though it accepted it had breached data protection law.

This €15,000 award was vacated in the High Court last week but Justice Kevin Feeney did rule that that there had been a clear and intentional breach of the Data Protection Act and the manner in which FBD conducted itself was unacceptable, awarding costs to Collins.

He said that the provisions of the DPA placed an obligation on a data controller i.e. FBD to “exercise a duty of care”.

“A breach of that duty of care can result in an award of damages. In this instance, the entitlement is not to damages for breach of duty but compensation for breach of duty,” he said.

“Compensation is intended to place an individual in the position which that individual would have been apart from the wrong done.”

Solicitor for Collins, Fintan Lawlor said the judgement of the High Court was welcome as it had “given clarity” to section 7 of the Data Protection Act “highlighting that compensation may be awarded where damages can be proven”.

“Corporations must ensure there are practices and procedures in place to ensure there that no damage is caused to the individual as a result of a breach of the Act,” he said.

Read: Insurance companies to have full access to drivers’ offences

Read: Complaints to Financial Services Ombudsman up 12% last year

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