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Hospital at risk in a major earthquake

The Wellington High Court has heard that Wairarapa Hospital could be at risk of failure in a major earthquake.

The claim was made in opening submissions to the court in proceedings brought by Te Whatu Ora [formerly Wairarapa DHB] against Masterton District Council [MDC] relating to defects in the construction of the hospital.

The four-week hearing started in the Wellington High Court yesterday.

Les Taylor KC is representing Te Whatu Ora.

“Wairarapa Hospital serves a region of approximately 50,000 people and is the only public hospital in the Wairarapa area. It’s also worth noting that Masterton is located in an area of higher seismic activity in New Zealand,” Taylor said.

“There is also evidence which indicates that the site of the hospital itself is on a fault or a faultline, although the investigations haven’t been able to find precisely where that faultline is. But the evidence, such as it is, indicates that it is on a fault line or very close to a fault line in the Wairarapa District.

“That was something that was known and identified by the council during the resource consent process for the hospital.”

Taylor said the hospital is intended to have post-disaster functionality so full emergency services can be provided after a significant earthquake.

Despite specific safety requirements, especially the requirement the hospital be designed to withstand a one-in-100-year earthquake and remain functional immediately or very soon after such a quake, the building has significant defects, Taylor said.

“What has been found is that the hospital suffers from significant seismic defects. It does not comply with the building code. In the event of a major earthquake, the hospital is likely to sustain significant damage to structural elements so that post-disaster medical services would be unlikely to be provided after a major earthquake,” he said.

“Even after a relatively moderate earthquake, there would likely be loss of some functions in the hospital.”

The court heard there are approximately 3000 “known” seismic structural defects in the building.

“I say ‘known’ because those are the ones that have been identified. But the evidence will be that there are likely a lot more defects that haven’t been able to be seen simply because of access to those areas of the hospital,” Taylor said.

The claims relate to alleged defects in the construction and consenting process for Wairarapa Hospital between 2004 and 2007. The existence of a relevant code of compliance certificate [CCC] is part of the subject of the claim. An entry relating to a CCC exists in MDC’s computer system, dated January 2011.

Te Whatu Ora is claiming almost $90 million in damages to remedy the defects, plus interest and costs. The claim relates, among other things, to the design and inspection process, construction defects, and the issuing of the CCC itself. There are questions before the court about whether the claim is out of time. MDC is defending the claim.

Neither MDC nor Te Whatu Ora wanted to comment to the Times-Age, on the basis that the litigation was ongoing. – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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