New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer warns deadline for earthquake claims looming

Lawyer warns deadline for earthquake claims looming

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A lawyer in Christchurch is warning the deadline for people to file residential claims in Court for earthquake damage to their homes is looming.

The earthquake occurred nearly seven years ago.

Peter Woods is a partner at law firm Anthony Harper and says there are still many houses that have not been repaired or an insurance claim settlement through a cash pay-out.

“On top of that, there’s a huge number of houses that EQC (Earthquake Commission) has fixed, however their original assessment of the damage was defective and the repair of the damage has also been proven defective. That’s been conceded by EQC. In April they (EQC) published a figure of 5,000 remedial claims but the latest I’ve heard is that it could be as many as 10,000. So these are people who have told EQC they are not satisfied with the assessment or the repair,” he says.

Mr Woods says the claims their law firm sees suggests it is a systemic problem.

“If a homeowner says to EQC that they’re unhappy about the standard of the assessment and repair, EQC has a standard remedial pack they send out. It includes engaging a builder to price the work, then submit the evidence for EQC to consider. So our clients will engage a builder, foundation specialist or a structural engineer to examine their house, do a report on what the original earthquake damage and how has it been fixed and what still needs to be done,” he says.

In all of their cases so far that has led to EQC conceding the cost to repair the damage is now more than $100,000, which is more than their statutory cap but they will pay the capped payment for their clients to take to their insurance company.

“We’ve been handling defective repairs for a couple of years now,” he says.

Mr Woods says there was concern last year that a limitation period was going to be set of six years since the date of the damage.

“That led to the Insurance Council saying its members would not recognise that date and that they would defer it to 4 September 2017,” he says.

Mr Woods says he wrote to the Insurance Council informing it that many of their client’s claims to EQC will be sent back to their insurance company and this may not happen until after 4 September.

“It’s a predicament for both the homeowners and the insurers because they don’t know how many claims they’re likely to receive,” he says.

Mr Woods says their law firm has asked the Insurance Council to defer any reliance on the limitation period for 12 months after a claim goes over cap.

“I thought that was a fair approach as it gives the insurer a year to try and settle it before the homeowner is forced to sue them,” he says.

However Mr Woods says a letter he received from the Insurance Council was not in favour of this proposal.

“It’s very unsatisfactory and there’ll be a lot of people who do not know there is this problem on the horizon because they’re still dealing with EQC. What happens if perhaps in February 2018 their claim is over cap, the homeowner then goes to their insurer who might say while they’ll deal with their claim, you are out of time,” he says.

Mr Woods says he would strongly encourage lawyers who are representing similar clients to get their claims in by 4 September because of the unreliable response he has received.

“Don’t take the risk. There will be thousands of homes potentially affected,” he says.

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