High Court drives hard bargain in Tesla case against Top Gear

The High Court has ordered a US car manufacturer to amend its case against the BBC in a dispute involving Top Gear or have the claim thrown out.

Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Clarkson

Carter Ruck instructed Ely Place silk William McCormick QC to pursue the case for malicious falsehood against the BBC.

The broadcaster directly instructed One Brick Court’s Andrew Caldecott QC to lead Catrin Evans of the same set in their argument that the claim should be struck out.

At the heart of the dispute was a Top Gear programme first broadcast in December 2008 that featured presenter Jeremy Clarkson reviewing the Tesla Roadster.

Although the limitation period for malicious falsehood is just a year, the claim was not launched until March 2011, meaning that the claimant could only ­pursue the broadcaster for airings falling within the preceding year.

Initially Clarkson was complimentary about the electric Roadster but the claimants said his criticisms about the car running out of battery power and the brake malfunctioning were wrong.

Tesla claimed that these criticisms published by the BBC were false and ­malicious.

However, the court highlighted that for malicious falsehood to apply, the claimants must show that a special damage had followed as a direct result of the publication. In this case, the claimant made no ­submissions on actual ­damages.

Caldecott argued for the BBC that for the claim to proceed a plea of damage was necessary. This would enable the judge to determine the prospect of the ­success of the case and the defendants to assess possible damages.

Ruling, Mr Justice Tugendhat refused to strike out the claim immediately, but told the claimants that he would unless the plea of damage is amended by agreement between the ­parties, or with the ­permission of the court.