21 Nov 2017

Former vehicle certifier to pay$100k for defaming chief executive

3:04 pm on 21 November 2017

A former vehicle certifier - once ranked the worst in the country - has been ordered to pay $100,000 in damages after defaming the industry association and its chief executive.

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John Brett used a website to claim industry incompetence was leading to deaths and injuries. Photo: 123RF

The High Court has found John Brett used his own website and social media to criticise the Low Volume Vehicle Technical Association (LVVTA) and chief executive Anthony Johnson.

The court's decision said Mr Brett ran a website using an address very similar to that of the LVVTA. Mr Johnson's evidence was that, from September 2012, Mr Brett increased and heightened attacks on the LVVTA and Mr Johnson personally.

Mr Brett removed the objectionable statements, but two years later he published further statements on his website and on his Facebook page, alleging "general and particularised incompetence on the part of the LVVTA leading to deaths and injuries".

Legal action resulted in a settlement agreement, and the association agreed not to sue Mr Brett for defamation if he removed material from his website and did not post more.

The association certifies modified or custom-built vehicles, or vehicles where construction may affect its compliance with vehicle standards or with safety performance requirements.

The association was set up in 1992 and has a formal relationship with the Transport Agency.

Mr Brett was an authorised LVV certifier from April 1999 until December 2012.

The High Court decision - released yesterday - noted there were concerns about his performance early on.

Mr Johnson's evidence shows that Mr Brett was "unwilling to apply the specified requirements" and Mr Brett's relationship with the association was described as "long and challenging".

The judgement noted that in the year ended June 2011 Mr Brett ranked as the worst certifier in New Zealand measured by technical, administrative and procedural errors.

The following year, Mr Brett was again ranked worst in terms of technical errors, and third worst in terms of administrative and procedural errors. He made 32 times as many safety-related technical errors compared to the average of all other LVV certifiers.

Mr Johnson gave evidence about efforts made by the association and Transport Agency to help Mr Brett.

Mr Brett argued that in some cases the new LVV Standards were dangerous, and could lead to unsafe outcomes. He stated a group of Auckland certifiers wrote a formal proposal to the LVVTA and NZTA, spelling out issues that needed to be addressed.

In 2012 the Transport Agency revoked his authorisation as a certifier. Mr Brett appealed and lost.

Mr Johnson's evidence was that Mr Brett did not comply.

In his decision Justice Palmer said despite attempts to stop the behaviour, Mr Brett continued a "steady stream of online criticism around the competence and integrity of the association and its chief executive, Anthony Johnson".

A permanent injunction was sought, plus damages of $250,000 for defamation and legal costs for breach of contract.

Mr Brett, who defended himself, sought an apology and costs.

Justice Palmer said out of the 35 statements complained of, only nine were not defamatory. Along with the $100,000 damages order, he made a permanent injunction that Mr Brett not repeat the defamatory statements for which he has been found liable.