The High Court of New Zealand has ordered former vehicle certifier, John Brett, to pay $100,000 in damages after defaming his boss and an industry association.
Brett used his personal website and social media to criticise the Low-Volume Vehicle Technical Association (LVVTA) and its chief executive, Anthony Johnson.
The LVVTA certifies modified vehicles where construction may hinder their compliance with vehicle standards. It has a formal relationship with the NZTA, whereby the partnership governs and maintains the low-volume vehicle (LVV) code.
Johnson’s evidence demonstrates that Brett was “unwilling to apply the specified requirements”, and the relationship with the LVVTA was “long and challenging”.
The judgement also noted how Brett, on two occasions, was ranked the worst LVV certifier in respect of his technical, administrative and procedural errors. The second was during the following year where he was again ranked worst in terms of technical errors, but third worst in terms of administrative and procedural errors.
Brett made 32 times more safety-related technical errors than the average of all the other LVV certifiers.
Johnson gave evidence regarding the efforts made by the association and NZTA to support Brett.
However, Brett argued that, in some cases, the new LVV code was dangerous, leading to potentially unsafe outcomes. He stated a group of Auckland certifiers wrote a formal proposal to the LVVTA and NZTA, addressing issues that needed to be discussed.
His authority to certify low-volume vehicles was revoked by the NZTA in 2012 due to being deemed “not a fit and proper person to be a LVV certifier”.
Brett was an authorised certifier from April 1999 to December 2012.
Since then Brett maintained a website containing “a steady stream of criticism of the competence and integrity” of the LVVTA and Johnson. Brett removed objectionable statements, but in 2014 he published further statements on his website and his Facebook page, alleging “general and particularised incompetence on the part of the LVVTA leading to deaths and injuries.”
Brett and the LVVTA entered into a settlement agreement, whereby the LVVTA agreed not to sue Brett for defamation in return for Brett removing material from his website and not posting more. Johnson’s evidence was that Brett didn’t comply.
A permanent injunction was sought, plus damages of $250,000 for defamation and legal costs for breach of contract.
The remedies granted by Justice Palmer were a damages award of $100,000 against Brett to Johnson, along with a permanent injunction “given proclivity to repeatedly defame the plaintiffs”.
Click here to read the full judgement.