The Kiwifruit Claim brought against the government regarding grower damages caused by Psa's introduction into New Zealand has been set down for a hearing next year. The timing could prove an embarrassment to the National government during its election campaign, said a claim spokesman.
The 212 plaintiffs, led by a group of Bay of Plenty growers, have estimated their losses at $376 million.
The High Court at Wellington's reserved judgement was released late last week by Justice J Dobson. It followed a hearing this month, which determined the 2017 trial would focus on confirming whether a duty of care was owed by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to kiwifruit growers.
The action will be heard after June 1, 2017. The plaintiffs said they wanted to get the trial out of the way in the first or second quarter of 2017. The Crown Law Office had sought the second or third quarter for the trial and asked for 16 weeks. Justice Dobson ruled for 12 weeks and said he hoped the trial would not take anywhere near the allocated time.
There has been speculation among some growers involved with the claim that the government may seek an out-of-court settlement before the case comes to trial, in order to avoid embarrassment during an election cycle.
However, claim spokesman Matthew Hooton said the plaintiffs wanted the hearing concluded well before the 2017 general election campaign. Mr Hooton said he was aware of rumours that the government's lawyers might want to settle, which he thought unfounded.
"There is absolutely no suggestion of an out-of-court settlement. To the contrary. The plaintiffs believe there is extremely strong evidence in favour of their claim and they want it to be heard and judged by the court. In fact, the plaintiffs believe their evidence is so strong that many of them worry it risks being politically embarrassing to John Key's government.
"That's why many of them, being strong National Party supporters, would personally have preferred the case be heard this year so as to be out of the way before election year. But sadly that can't be helped now, given the time frame the Crown Law Office sought."
The Treasury's Half-Year Economic and Fiscal Update last December, in the first formal accounting for the action's effect, noted that the government may be potentially liable for more than $250 million in damages.