Suspect a company has financial difficulties? Careful what you say.

A libel case on Maricom is a first, but Flymenow v Quick Air Jet [2016] EWHC 3197 (QB), decided today by Warby J, is a salutary warning. Efficient German operation Quick Air Jet regularly chartered aircraft to English air ambulance operators Flymenow. Flymenow were slow in paying, spinning out the process for a long time and doing their best not to pay their suppliers before they themselves got paid. Exasperated, Quick Air Jet emailed others in their branch of the industry, saying:

“To Whom It May Concern. WARNING: Company you should not deal with! Pecuniary difficulties! … We consider that it is our duty to warn you against doing business with the following company as they are not able to pay outstanding amounts dated from July 2013. … FlyMeNow Limited is obviously incapable to pay their outstanding amounts in total. In this particular case for two ambulance flights they booked with our airline company in July and August 2013.”

The result was a writ for libel. The action succeeded on the basis that there was an unsubstantiated allegation of insolvency, and that there was no sufficient interest to raise any defence of qualified privilege. The only crumb of comfort for Quick Air Jet was Warby J’s holding that Flymenow, by paying slowly, had brought all this on themselves, and the consequent decision to award an effectively nominal £10 damages. Nevertheless, the moral is obvious for (for example) disponent owners with suspicions about time charterers: be very very careful what you say, and limit it to allegations of won’t pay rather than can’t pay.

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