23 Mar 2009

Decision reserved over RSA victim's compensation bid

6:46 pm on 23 March 2009

The Supreme Court has reserved its decision on whether exemplary damages can be claimed by the sole survivor of an Auckland RSA robbery in 2001.

Susan Couch is seeking $500,000 from the Department of Corrections over alleged negligence by the probation officer responsible for supervising William Bell, the man jailed over the 2001 attack.

Three people died and Ms Couch was so seriously injured in the attacks that doctors did not expect her to survive. The effects of the beating she endured continue to this day.

In October 2008, the Supreme Court found Ms Couch could sue the Department of Corrections because it may be found to have owed her a duty of care.

On Monday, the Crown told the court that exemplary damages were not available.

The court heard that New Zealand's unique accident compensation legislation affects the availability of exemplary damages here in a way which does not happen in other countries.

Solicitor-General, David Collins, QC, told the court that exemplary damages should be restricted to instances where those being sued had consciously done wrong to the person taking the case.

The Crown argued that the claim should be struck out, as exemplary damages are never available in negligence claims and ACC legislation bars claims arising from personal injury.

However, Ms Couch's lawyer Brian Henry argued that if there has been a flagrant breach of standards there has to be some redress.

Mr Henry said they wanted their day in court to show there has been a gross negligence on the part of the Corrections Department.

Ms Couch was at the hearing and said her health is still improving slowly. The Sensible Sentencing Trust is supporting her through the legal battle.

If the court finds in favour of Ms Couch, she will be able to take a full case against the department.