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Diageo heads to court over ‘black fungus’ claim

Johnnie Walker owner Diageo has “strongly” disputed a couple’s claim that angel’s share from a whisky ageing facility in Scotland has damaged their property.

Diageo’s Cambus Cooperage in Scotland

Thomas and Jane Chalmers have filed a lawsuit against Diageo Scotland for the sum of £40,000 (US$48,389) in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The Chalmers reside in a house in Bonnybridge, Falkirk, near a whisky site operated by the UK drinks giant.

The couple claim that the facility’s “release of ethanol into the atmosphere is a nuisance” and has produced “black fungus” that has damaged their house and outdoor furniture. The couple allege that the “fungus” has created “visible black staining” on their roof and “discolouration” at a number of properties in the area.

As a result, the Chalmers say they “have suffered a reduction in the value of their house”.

In 2002, the couple paid £138,950 (US$168,034) for the new-build property, and say the value of the house has been reduced by approximately 5%-10% following the impact of the “fungus”.

In response, Diageo Scotland said “the blackening complained of is indistinguishable visually or in impact from blackening found in a wide range of other locations, and that it does not cause serious disturbance, substantial inconvenience or material damage”.

The case previously came under debate before Lord Tyre because Diageo said the couple had failed to state a relevant and sufficiently specific case over the quantification of the alleged loss and damage.

In the lawsuit’s decision, Lord Tyre said: “In my opinion the Chalmers have given sufficient notice of costs and other losses which, if all were to be established in evidence, might amount to the sum sued for.”

The case will now go on to an evidential hearing.

A Diageo spokesperson told The Spirits Business yesterday (14 August): “We strongly dispute the claims made against Diageo in this case. We note the judge’s opinion issued today and will take the time to review this accordingly.

“We care deeply about the long-standing relationships we have built with our neighbours and are sympathetic to the concern raised about exterior blackening of some buildings.

“However, exterior blackening visibly exists across many structures in Scotland, including where there are no whisky warehouses, and it is therefore very difficult to say that it is caused by any single environmental factor.“

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