High Court slams Government-owned quake insurance company for 'deceptive conduct'

The government-owned insurance company formed to pay out Christchurch earthquake claims has been found by the High Court to have "falsely represented" information, "edited" crucial documents, and engaged in "misleading and deceptive conduct".

Your playlist will load after this ad

Southern Response was formed to pay out Christchurch earthquake claims. Source: 1 NEWS

It resulted in Canterbury homeowners receiving much lower insurance payments than they were entitled to.  

It is understood by 1 NEWS that the damning judgement against Southern Response may potentially cost taxpayers $300 million. 

It is no overstatement to say Justice Gendall has found Southern Response's conduct seriously wanting.  

The question for taxpayers is how much might it ultimately cost us? 

"Well, based on the evidence Southern Response gave at trial, they said it was likely to be hundreds of millions. But we actually think there's possibly up to 3000 homeowners that're affected.  So that's taken the claim well north of $300 million," said lawyer Peter Woods.

In 2012, as an ad from the time described, AMI Insurance claims arising from Canterbury earthquakes were picked up by a new insurer formed solely for that purpose.

"These are now being settled by a company called Southern Response, which is owned by Government," the ad said.

But things went awry, and then plain wrong. There were protests from claimants claiming that Southern Response was underpaying them. 

The High Court judgement says in this case they were.

It says Southern Response's conduct was "misleading and deceptive" and that they used a document that was "false and misleading".

It also finds their representations "repeated on many occasions here, were false and misleading".

To those who've watched Southern Response work, none of this is much of a surprise. 

"The one word that comes to mind is despicable. I just think it is the most despicable behaviour," said Ali Jones, insurance advocate.

"But it is behaviour that has been going on for a while, not only with Southern response, other insurers as well, and with EQC. And I am glad that someone's been called out on it," she said.

The costs are adding up.

"Four-hundred-and fifty million dollars of re-repairs, making good after deficient EQC work," TVNZ's John Campbell said. "The announcement yesterday of $300 million or thereabouts being paid out to people who bought properties after the earthquake believing, because if EQC reports, they were fine when they were not.

"And today's announcement somewhere also in the region of $300 million. In total, a cost to the taxpayer of $1 billion or thereabouts."

Southern Response declined an interview request from 1 NEWS.

But the lawyer who won the case against the company assesses the behaviour in very blunt terms.

"It's appalling behaviour," Mr Woods said.

TVNZ’s John Campbell broke the story in May that an Australian law firm was backing around 3000 Canterbury homeowners against Southern Response.

See his in-depth look at the spying on customers carried out by the company here.