9 May 2024

Levels of litigation rising with economic hardship

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 9 May 2024

Tough times, and raised post-Covid levels of impatience, could be the reason NZ is seeing a rise in a number of people suing for justice.

Trade Me website

Trade Me website Photo: RNZ

One of the country's top litigation lawyers says New Zealand is seeing a lift in court action between companies.
Chapman Tripp partner Justin Graham, who oversees a team of about 80 litigation specialists, says the courts are now so log-jammed that it's taking more than two years to get cases to trial - the longest it's been for a while.

Lawyer Justin Graham, head of litigation practice at Chapman Tripp

Lawyer Justin Graham, head of litigation practice at Chapman Tripp Photo: Supplied

He says while we don't have American levels of suing over absolutely everything here, disputes that may in the past have been resolved lawyer-to-lawyer are heading straight to the justice system.
Graham says while it's hard to get accurate statistics, the level of business in our High Courts across the country indicates there's been an uptick in litigation.

"If you just want a one-day argument in the High Court at the moment you're looking at next year. They just don't have any time," he says.
Banks are probably the biggest targets, and instigators, of litigation; Graham says they are involved in about 40-90 cases a year, whether it's class actions over fees, or debt collection.
Graham tells The Detail the reasons behind it are speculative, but he thinks one of them is the fact we're living in tough times.
"People are probably a bit more desperate and turn to litigation as a last resort, and probably a bit more readily than perhaps we're used to in New Zealand.
"I think people are probably just a little bit more impatient and that's probably been driven through the aftermath of Covid. Economic downturn has led to people not exactly being trigger-happy but probably seeing litigation as an option more than they might otherwise.
"And perhaps people just aren't as scared of litigation as they used to be. It's sort of become a bit more part of the New Zealand lifestyle than it ever has previously. It used to be a very big deal back in the day to take someone to court, and I think companies and people do it a little bit more readily."
He says the emergence of litigation funders here now may have changed things as well.
So what do you do when you get that dreaded legal letter?
"Often you just have to work out how strongly you feel about it, how easy it is for you to change, what economically is the best path for you to fight, to fold, to do something in the middle," he says.
"Sometimes it's easier to avoid the fight and I can see why companies do that."

Colleen Getley, the founder and director of Trade Jobs NZ

Colleen Getley, the founder and director of Trade Jobs NZ Photo: Supplied

One company that refuses to back down however is Trade Jobs NZ, a specialist online recruitment service for the trades that launched in October 2021.
By March the next year a 'cease and desist' letter had arrived from TradeMe Jobs, asking the family firm to stop using the colour orange. 

Trade Jobs NZ owner Colleen Getley says a reply was sent explaining why the colour of road cones and hi-vis vests was being used; and thought that was the end of it.
Six months later, another letter - this time saying there would be court action if they not only didn't stop using orange, but didn't change their name as well.
Getley points out that TradeMe's colours are blue and yellow.
"In reality, how many colours can they own?" she asks.
She talks to The Detail about why her company won't be walking away from the marketing, money and effort the family has put into establishing it, and the stress of having this hanging over their heads.
"I'm actually determined more for every small business in New Zealand who starts up to do something for our society. We're here specifically identifying a need. If for example, we lose, what does that say for small businesses in New Zealand? You can't use a name that describes what you do. So are we just going to be stamped out by these large conglomerates with lots of money to spend?" 

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