Southern Response quake case: Couple want apology from Gerry Brownlee

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A couple tricked into accepting a lower offer from Southern Response to repair their earthquake-damaged home wants a full apology from former earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee.

National Party deputy leader Gerry Brownlee 21 July 2020

Former Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee remains unrepentant. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Karl and Alison Dodds accepted an offer almost $200,000 less than a secret higher estimate to fix their house, despite having the ‘best insurance policy money could buy’.

The government today announced it would not appeal the landmark court case requiring it to pay the couple more than $180,000.

Karl said the blame lied firmly with the former National government and its minister at the time, Gerry Brownlee.

“Ali and I were over the moon at what was a pragmatic and sensible conclusion to what has been a dismal process.”

The Dodds discovered Southern Response had tricked them into accepting a lower offer by keeping secret a second higher estimate to rebuild their earthquake-damaged home.

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 still want to see an independent inquiry into Southern Response. Photo: RNZ

Today finally brought some closure to their fight, Karl said.

“We are absolutely delighted that the ministers, Megan Woods and Grant Robertson, had stuck to their word. They had sought clarity for very good reasons and we fully respect those reasons. They have received the clarity. They’ve made the right decision not to proceed to Supreme Court and we could not be happier.”

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But the Dodds are not alone.

There could be thousands of people in a similar boat, who were short-changed their full entitlement.

Karl said he still wanted to see an independent inquiry into Southern Response to get some answers about who ordered them to use such deceptive tactics.

“I think only from an independent inquiry can we be absolutely clear about what they did and why they did it and who authorised it. And then look at how one prevents that at a future date.”

The Dodds had received apologies from Megan Woods, the Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration, and Southern Response’s general manager, Casey Hurren.

But Karl Dodds laid the blame squarely at the feet of the previous National government and said he hoped Gerry Brownlee, a Christchurch MP and former canterbury earthquake recovery minister, would offer them a full apology.

However, Brownlee remains unrepentant.

“The previous government has nothing to apologise for. We in fact bailed out a failed insurer and stood by the people of Christchurch who had those policies and so we have nothing to apologise for.”

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Dodds said history would ultimately judge the previous government’s actions.

“For us in particular, we had what was the best insurance policy that money could buy. And yet, for whatever reason, they just continually lowballed us and acted totally and utterly dishonourably.

“I think, at the end of the day, what we think and what others think, at this particular point in time are not that relevant. What’s going to be interesting is how history records all of this. And I really do believe that history is not going to paint the National government in a very good light.”

The Dodds’ case will also have ramifications for a class action suit currently before the courts, involving another 3000 policy holders.

The lawyer representing them, Grant Cameron, said he was pleased the government had made the right decision in regards to the Dodds, and if re-elected they should take a similar stance with those in the class action.

“We think the path ahead for the government is actually very clear. And the government should engage in some sort of positive discussions to see how the overall affair could be resolved. And we remain hopeful that Labour would do that if it’s re-elected.”

Such an approach would potentially cost the government hundreds of million of dollars.

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Speaking to media this afternoon, Megan Woods was not willing to address the government’s plans for the class action, saying only that the case remained before the courts.

Woods confirmed she had apologised to the Dodds.

She said the case was taken to the Court of Appeal to provide further clarity, but the government wanted the Dodds to be able to move on with their lives.

Southern Response’s Casey Hurren said he could not comment on how much it may be liable for now that this case had set a precedent, but they were working through that with the government.

“It could be hundreds of millions of dollars. We didn’t know the exact number but we were talking in the lower hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Southern Response general manager Casey Hurren said there was no deliberate attempt to mislead or deceive claimants, and there would be more clarity for those who believed they may be entitled to further payments, but after the election.

For those in the class action, such a resolution could not come soon enough.

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