More than 50 Christchurch homeowners have lodged legal proceedings against the Earthquake Commission and insurance companies over fears they'll be left to pay for botched earthquake repairs.
Tomorrow marks the seventh anniversary of the September 4, 2010 magnitude-7.1 tremor that sparked the devastating two-year Canterbury earthquake sequence.
The Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) has previously told Cantabrians that the main residential private insurers would not rely on the Limitation Act before September 4, 2017.
But there are different interpretations of how the Act applies, and individual insurers and EQC have taken a range of positions.
"There is no need to worry about rushing to court and incurring costs to protect your legal position when you can simply make a call to your insurer to understand its position on its Limitation Act rights in relation to your claim," said ICNZ chief executive Tim Grafton.
Lawyers, insurance advocates, and homeowners spoken to by the Herald, however, are worried they'll face massive repair bills if they don't act before the untested statute of limitations defence could be applied. The law encourages claims to be settled in a timely fashion.
Shine Lawyers filed "about 50" proceedings last week.
And in the next few months, managing director Andrew Hooker expects "possibly two to three times that amount".
"We're filing proceedings in court to saying that the insurer and/or EQC have not repaired the house to policy standards, and/or that the repairs are defective ... and to get a ruling on whether EQC has to pay the lot," Hooker said.
He was still receiving "desperate requests for help" on Thursday night.
"Time is ticking on and EQC and insurers will be able to rely on things like the limitation period if people aren't careful. By then it's too late and they can't sue anyone," he said.
Law firm Anthony Harper has filed two proceedings where insurance companies have refused to defer reliance on a Limitation Act defence after yesterday. Both of the claims are with the insurer, not EQC.
"However, we are drafting many more proceedings, for clients who only have extensions from their insurer to October 2, 2017. A number of these claims are still with EQC and have not yet been passed to the insurer," senior associate Lisa Taylor said.
IAG last week confirmed that assigned insurance claims would be restricted to a September 4 limitations date, which Taylor says has caught many claimants by surprise.
EQC say its approach to limitation periods takes into account the circumstances of each individual claim and allows customers six years from the date that a decision was made on the claim being accepted or declined.
"Therefore the limitation period starts from the most recent date that EQC makes payment in settlement of a customer's claim under the EQC Act, or a customer's repairs have been completed, including re-repairs," said an EQC spokesman who added that people should talk to their private insurer regarding their policy or claim.