12 Sep 2019

Quake-hit homeowners to fight Southern Response 'to the very end'

7:26 pm on 12 September 2019

A Christchurch couple say they'll fight insurer Southern Response to the very end after learning they're being forced back into court for an appeal after already winning their case.

Canterbury homeowners Alison and Karl Dodds speak to Lisa Owen about their ordeal with government-owned quake insurer Southern Response.

Canterbury homeowners Alison and Karl Dodds. Photo: RNZ

Last month the High Court found the insurer had misled and deceived Karl and Alison Dodds when it kept secret from them a higher estimate to rebuild their quake damaged home. It lead to the couple unwittingly settling for hundreds of thousands of dollars less.

The Dodds begged Southern Response not to appeal the decision so they could move on from their years-long battle, but today Southern Response confirmed it would appeal.

Southern Response declined to be interviewed on Checkpoint.

Southern Response said it was appealing to gain better clarity around its legal obligation to go back in time to claims settled on a full and final basis and pay people more than they were entitled to at the time their claim was settled.

In statement it said: "This was not an easy decision for anyone."

Mr Dodds said the minister in charge of Southern Response, Grant Robertson, another minister, Megan Woods, and two Southern Response officials, delivered the news.

"We were obviously disappointed, saddened, because this could have all been brought to an end and we could have all moved on. But for whatever reason ... they have decided to appeal and we will fight them to the end...

"We will go wherever it has got to go because we are right. And this is a case that will affect every single policy holder in New Zealand, regardless of which insurance company your policy is with. Because this is a case which touches on the very essence of insurance behaviour.

"At the moment - and I'm not trying to use emotive words, but I need to get this across to the public as forcefully as I can - insurance in New Zealand is at the moment in a precipice of an abyss to oblivion. That precipice is either going to suck them in or be pulled back from the abyss depending on the outcome of our case.

"It is so because what is at stake here is if we lose it sends a signal to all insurers that it is OK to misrepresent facts and figures. [That] it is OK to place before policy holders a document that you know to be false in the knowledge that our test case has allowed this to be so."

Mr Robertson said the decision to appeal was the government's decision.

He maintained it was right decision, but a tough one to make.

"I'm sorry for the situation they find themselves in, but on balance, the decision we have had to make here is about the longer term issues that are facing Canterbury and for the New Zealand taxpayer to be confident that we have got clarity about what needs to be done. Ultimately, once we get that clarity, it is my intention that we will move towards proactive solutions for those people who are affected."

The government would be paying the couple's legal fees, he said.

"The reality is if we stopped today, there would almost certainly be other court cases. We can hopefully resolve matters through this case so others don't have to go down that path."

Mr Robertson would not say what the fiscal risk was to the Crown except that it was "very significant".

He said he had heard there could be up to 3000 homeowners in the same situation as the Dodds.

You can watch the full interview with Mr Robertson below.

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