A judge has approved a €20,000 damages settlement offer by Irish Life Assurance to a nine-year-old who, at the age of only two, was unlawfully photographed on her high chair in the privacy of her own home by an undercover investigator.
Barrister James Lawless told Judge Sarah Berkeley in the Circuit Civil Court that Erin Marsha Went’s mother Terry was being investigated by agents from the firm in relation to a disputed disablement Income Protection Policy when the photographs were taken.
Mr Lawless, who appeared for Erin with Matthew Byrne of Burns Nowlan Solicitors, told the court the private detective agency violated the child’s privacy, her data protection rights and the inviolability of her home.
The court heard that Ms Went, of Season Park, Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow, lodged a claim with Irish Life Assurance under her policy and Irish Life had hired IBI International Bureau of Investigations Limited to carry out covert surveillance on her.
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Mr Lawless told Judge Berkeley that the IBI bureau, of Marino Mart, Fairview, Dublin, which was dissolved in July 2019, had on various dates in 2015 followed Ms Went and her child and filmed them in a Dunnes Stores supermarket and car park.
He said IBI covertly photographed Erin on her home’s driveway, at her front door and had taken pictures through a window of the child with her mother and grandmother inside the home. The recordings and pictures were forwarded to Irish Life Assurance at its offices in the Irish Life Centre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1.
Liability not conceded
Unpixillated images of the child were retained by Irish Life Assurance, which had entered a defence and not conceded liability or any breach of the data protection legislation. IBI had earlier been dropped as a co-defendant in the proceedings.
Mr Lawless said Irish Life Assurance made a settlement offer in Erin’s €60,000 damages claim of €7,500 which, on his recommendation, was thrown out by during an earlier hearing at the Circuit Civil Court. Judge John O’Connor had told him that given the covert recording and breaches and wrongs perpetrated on the child, the court felt any settlement offer should be at least €20,000.
Mr Lawless told Judge Berkeley on Tuesday that he had come to court prepared to fight Erin’s case but at the last minute Irish Life had made an offer, without admission of liability, of €20,000 which he was recommending acceptance of.
Judge Berkely, who expressed shock that photographs had been taken through the window of the child’s home, approved the settlement and awarded circuit court costs against Irish Life.
She directed that the money be entered in court funds until Erin turns 18 in 2031.