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Car Manufacturers’ ‘Top Gear’ Defamation Claim Fails

The manufacturers of a ground-breaking electric car, the performance of which was criticised in an episode of the popular motoring television show, ‘Top Gear’, have failed to convince the Court of Appeal that they were the victims of libel or malicious falsehood. The court upheld a first instance judge’s ruling that both claims had no realistic prospect of success.

The manufacturers had sued the BBC, claiming that words spoken by motoring journalist, Jeremy Clarkson, during the 2008 broadcast implied that they had been dishonest about the car’s capabilities, particularly its range on a single battery charge. It was alleged that false statements made about the car had been published maliciously and were calculated to cause the manufacturers pecuniary loss. The manufacturers’ case included a special damages claim for $3.9 million.

In striking out the libel claim at first instance, a judge ruled that no reasonable viewer would have understood from the broadcast that the car’s performance in the rigorous conditions of the ‘Top Gear’ test track would be comparable to its performance on public roads. Also dismissing the malicious falsehood claim, the judge found that the words complained of were incapable of bearing the meaning contended for by the manufacturers.

Dismissing the manufacturers’ appeal, the court ruled that the broadcast was not capable of being understood by a reasonable member of the public to mean that the manufacturers had been dishonest in claiming that the car had a range of 200 miles under normal driving conditions.  The court also found that, on the basis of currently available evidence, the manufacturers had no real prospect of demonstrating that they had suffered any quantifiable loss by reasons of statements made during the broadcast.