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Earthquake court approach misguided: ICNZ

Lawyers will be the only winners from the Labour Party's decision to set up an Earthquake Court that would be funded by everyone who takes out insurance in New Zealand and potentially Cantabrians may have to wait even longer to have claims resolved, the Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said.

"The idea of creating a situation where effectively you are forced by the State to pay people to sue you is totally rejected and would set a very bad precedent for the future." Mr Grafton said.

"The supposed justification for this misguided policy is Labour’s statement that 10,000 insurance claims have not been settled. The reality is that 87% of the 22,500 over cap claims with insurers have been settled or agreement reached with the customer, there is only a very small fraction of claims that may be in dispute," says Mr Grafton.

"About 1,500 customers have still to make decisions on the offers made by insurers but the majority are waiting for their land settlement offers from EQC before deciding, very few are in actual dispute.

"Where there is a dispute there are free services available to people to resolve maters without having to go to Court. First, there is the internal disputes resolution service with the insurer, next there are the external, registered disputes resolution services and in addition to this there is the Residential Advisory Service that insurers help fund," he says.

"We would encourage people to use the independent services such as the Residential Advisory Service because in many cases the disputes are not legal issues but technical matters relating to differences about engineering assessments of damage," he says.

"Clearly the current resolution procedures available are working because at the end of December 2013 there were 2,600 customers with undecided claims but by the end of March 2014 the number had reduced to 1,500 with a further 1,100 customers agreeing to a resolution with their insurer or claims management company," says Mr Grafton.

"Where matters have gone to court, there are about 175 active earthquake cases before the High Court of which about 70% have been brought by one lawyer Grant Shand.

"Encouraging people to go to Court by making it free means people may abandon the already free disputes resolution services regardless of the merits of their case to the uncertain outcome of the Courts. This would put a halt to the customer’s recovery progress until the Court has determined their cases.

"Many customers just want to get on with their repairs and rebuilds but this misguided policy may create some confusion and further delay resolution as some may think they’ll await the outcome of the election to see whether some State-sanctioned court action may result in a future windfall," says Mr Grafton.