The entire country was paranoid and people would step off the footpath when meeting others during the terrifying early days of Covid, a judge said on Tuesday when ruling on a €75,000 claim for defamation against superstore chain Lidl.
Computer software analyst Maciek Molisak told Judge James McCourt in the Circuit Civil Court that a manager in the Kildare Town branch had accused him of spreading disease in the store.
He told his barrister, Conor Kearney, the accusation was made after he mentioned to an employee he and his wife, a front line worker in a care home, had tested positive for Covid-19 in March 2020, upon which both had isolated.
Mr Kearney, who appeared with Aisling Woods, of Tiernan Solicitors, said Mr Molisak felt he had been defamed in front of customers in the store and among the Polish community in Kildare Town.
Counsel for Lidl, Shane English, who appeared with MacSweeney Solicitors, said the company “denied absolutely” that such words had been said to Mr Molisak.
In awarding Mr Molisak (43), of Ruanbeg Court, Kildare Town, damages of €12,500, Judge McCourt said that at the time the entire country was paranoid and on tenterhooks, and people were looked upon with suspicion when they went about any business they had to do.
“It was an appalling time,” Judge McCourt said. “Most of us remember what it was like to walk down the street and see people step off the footpath.”
Check-out operator Renata Terefenko said Mr Molisak was known to the staff and he had told her he and his wife had tested positive for Covid. After she dealt with him, she had gone to the bathroom and washed her hands, the court heard.
She said she rang a colleague, Joanna Stachowicz, who she had seen earlier speaking with Mr Molisak’s wife, to tell her of the development.
Ms Stachowicz told the court she became stressed following the phone call because when she had spoken to Mr Molisak's wife she had told her she was awaiting test results. She had reported the matter to her manager, Nicoleta Sandru.
Ms Sandru told Judge McCourt she had spoken to Mr Molisak. “I said please don’t tell staff you have Covid as we are under a lot of stress. It is very important for us not to know.”
She said there had been no guidelines in place and every day there was a different message and different rules. If people had come in telling staff they had Covid, they would have had to close, she claimed.
Ms Sandru denied having said to Molisak: “You are spreading the coronavirus and you must leave the premises.”
Judge McCourt said he had no doubt all of the witnesses were doing their best to relay what they recalled, and he commended all of them for their efforts to persuade him as to the merits of their respective cases.