Court doubles leaky-home payout

By Anne Gibson

Two victims of the rotting-homes debacle have had their compensation payout doubled, and now other victims could get more.

Justice Peter Woodhouse in the High Court at Auckland ordered that Paul and Wilna White of Whangaparaoa get $346,002.

He overturned Kevin Kilgour's decision in the Weathertight Homes Tribunal this year to pay them just $173,801 and criticised Mr Kilgour for reaching the wrong conclusions.

Grant Shand of lawyers Grimshaw & Co said the case was extremely heartening and a harbinger for other victims.

Lawyer Paul Grimshaw said the case was significant because the amount awarded was doubled.

The Whites' home at 6 Castaway Place was so poorly built that a child fell part-way down a hole in a deck.

The family had left Barton-le-Clay, outside Luton in England, in the hope of a better life here but were devastated when they found serious structural issues with the new house.

They have fought for eight years to get justice but got less than half what they claimed in Mr Kilgour's tribunal, where both Mrs White and Justice Woodhouse said a large number of mistakes were made.

So, with Mr Shand, the Whites appealed, seeking more money from former house owner Lorelle Joy Kerkin and Rodney District Council, which was represented by David Heaney.

Justice Woodhouse's decision, just out, criticised Mr Kilgour for making mistakes and reaching the wrong conclusions.

Mr Kilgour awarded the Whites only $10,000 each for pain and suffering, but Justice Woodhouse increased that to $25,000 each - a trend Mr Shand said was a distinguishing point between the tribunal and the court in other cases.

Mr Kilgour said the Whites knew their house was a potential leaky building when they bought it, or soon after, and had failed to take prompt action.

Justice Woodhouse said Mr Kilgour was wrong about that.

"Both conclusions, in my judgment, were not supported by the evidence," he wrote.

Mrs White said she was delighted but amazed at the decision and the amount of money won.

"I'm still shellshocked. Even Grant said he had not heard me speechless before," she said.

Leaky-building lawyers have copped criticism from Auckland City Mayor John Banks and others for gaining financially from the disaster, estimated to cost between $11.6 billion and $20 billion to fix.

But Mr Grimshaw said the Whites' victory showed how much more victims could get by using good defence and going through the civil jurisdiction of the High Court rather than the tribunal.

Asked about the bills, Mr Shand said the Whites were not charged a cent for legal representation for three years, and Grimshaw & Co had also paid all experts to complete reports and present evidence.

"The deal we did with the Whites was that they didn't have to pay anything until they recovered money, so we carried them.

"This is our contribution to the community," he said.

Doubling of the payout set a precedent for other victims, he said.

"It is great that the Whites will now actually receive a decent amount of compensation.

"There were a lot of errors in the Weathertight Homes Tribunal decision that have now been corrected in the High Court judgment. It is a victory for the judicial process," Mr Shand said.

Mr Grimshaw said his firm acted for the Whites in the tribunal and the court.

"We appealed to the High Court, which said the tribunal was wrong to penalise the owners, who had done nothing wrong."

NEW FIGURES

TRIBUNAL
$173,801 plus $10,000 each for pain and suffering.

HIGH COURT
$346,002 plus $25,000 each for pain and suffering.

- NZ Herald

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