Legal advice: Verbally abused after a negative Covid-19 test

Legal advice: Verbally abused after a negative Covid-19 test

This weekly column is a readers’ service and is not intended to replace professional advice.

Q: I live in a small village in Cork and there was a spike in Covid-19 cases in the past month. As I work with a number of people who were diagnosed with the virus, I attended for testing. The results came back negative and I thought no more of it.

Last week, I was in a café with my family having lunch. Someone connected to my GP’s surgery was in the café and began shouting abuse at me, in front of everyone.

I was told I was irresponsible for putting others at risk in the town as I had Covid-19. I was told that I ought to be ashamed. I was mortified and left. What are my options.

A: I am sorry to read of your recent difficulties. Having to get tested for Covid-19 is difficult enough, not to mind being abused in public.

It would be worth considering, and investigating, if there has been a data breach by your GP in respect of the disclosure or divulgence of your medical records. Medical information is very personal, and private, data and your GP, as the data controller, has an obligation to ensure that such data is kept save.

Data breaches are governed by the Data Protection Act 2018 and General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and any breaches attract serious consequences, including significant fines.

It might also be open to you to seek compensation for the data breach. Given that this may be a complicated matter, I advise that you consult with your solicitor as soon as possible so that your interest can be protected of properly.

It could also be argued that you have been defamed. Defamation is the act of making a statement (either orally or in writing) which tends to damage a person’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society.

One’s reputation, and the protection of that and one’s character, is fundamental. The right to a good name is enshrined in the Constitution of Ireland and there is legislation to protect people’s good name. In Ireland, defamation is largely governed by the Defamation Act 2009. To establish a claim, a defamatory statement must be made (in your case it seems to have been made orally), it must refer to the complainant (you appear to have been referred to and you were identifiable), it must be in the presence of others and it must be false. It appears your situation meets the necessary requirements.

A successful outcome of bringing a defamation claim could be compensation for the injury or damage done, an apology for harm caused by the initial incident or both. However, each case depends on the specific details, and there are several defences to defamation claims. Thus it would be advisable to discuss this in more detail with a solicitor. At this stage you should jot down the details of the exchange including the exact phrases and words used. You should also take a note of any witnesses to the incident.

Jody Cantillon is a Partner in Cantillons Solicitors of 39 South Mall, Cork, an award-winning law firm practising in all areas of litigation. Since the firm was founded in 1980, they have been involved in precedent making cases, amongst them Best v Wellcome, Louise O’Keeffe v Ireland, Russell v HSE, and most recently Gibson v HSE, a medical negligence claim in which they achieved damages of €23m, the highest ever award in Irish personal injury litigation to date.

  • This weekly column is a readers’ service and is not intended to replace professional advice. No individual correspondence will be entered into. Email your queries to Cantillons Solicitors is OPEN and continues to deliver a high-quality service for our existing and new clients.
  • If you are an existing client, or if you wish to enquire about a new matter, call us on 021 4275673 or email us on

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