The High Court has given Bank of Ireland permission to make a settlement offer, without admitting liability, to a woman who claims it disclosed private banking details to her estranged father.
The woman claims her father used the confidential bank transaction data to track her down abroad, stalk and harass her.
In a ruling on Thursday, Ms Justice Siobhán Phelan held that Bank of Ireland could make a tender offer of payment to the woman, but any offer would not take effect until the court discovery process had concluded.
Waiting until after the discovery process ensures the bank does not secure undue litigation advantage and preserves the woman’s right of access to the courts.
The purpose of the lodgement or tender procedure is to facilitate an early settlement of an action.
The judge’s ruling permits the bank to offer a payment and if the woman refuses the offer and goes on to be awarded a lower sum at trial, the bank can seek to recoup much of its legal costs against the plaintiff.
In her High Court case against the bank, her father and her father’s firm, the woman seeks aggravated and/or exemplary and/or punitive damages for the alleged breach of duty, privacy and confidence.
The bank claims it is a stranger to much of the woman’s case but accepted she raised issues with it and the Data Protection Commissioner in relation to her personal data, the judge said. It denies there had been any breach of duty in this case and makes no admission as to how the documents came to be in the possession of the woman’s father as alleged.
Following the involvement of the Data Protection Commissioner, the bank moved to acknowledge it had “fallen short of the standards” the woman should have been able to rely upon, the judge noted. However, attempts at mediation were unsuccessful.
Ms Justice Phelan said the evidence before her did not allege bad faith on the part of the bank in how it approached the mediation. She could not see that an unfair litigation advantage flowed from the fact the woman had disclosed information as part of the mediation process that was then abandoned.
There was an “inequality of arms” between the parties, giving rise to a potential litigation advantage to the defendants, in relation to certain information in the plaintiff’s discovery request being “red circled”.
The judge said the evidence before the court did not reach the threshold of special circumstances that would warrant refusing the bank’s application. She said she could mitigate against the apprehended unfairness by conditioning the grant of leave so the bank could only make the tender offer after the discovery process had concluded.