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Trial looming in hospital’s legal stoush

A trial will go ahead if mediation attempts between Masterton District Council and Wairarapa District Health Board are unsuccessful. PHOTO/FILE

Council denies liability

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Two years ago, Wairarapa District Health Board took legal action against Masterton District Council [MDC] over its defective hospital buildings. Now, a trial date has been set despite attempts at mediation.

The Times-Age reported in November 2020 that the DHB was taking MDC to the High Court over faulty facilities that the council had signed off as safe.

The DHB said it had to spend almost $1 million to fix the buildings, which cost $30m to build in 2006.

The council denied liability because it had relied upon the expertise of structural engineers.

The DHB said it had fixed the riskiest earthquake-prone items, including restraining ceilings and a canopy roof connection to the main building at the front of the hospital.

“Remediation of the greatest-risk concerns is now completed,” the DHB said.

The hearing was expected to begin on July 31, 2023.

Wellington High Court said the hearing was expected to last four weeks.

In 2020, the DHB said it did not plan to undertake more remediation work.

It said it would take significantly more work to make the buildings fully compliant with the New Building Standard for an Importance Level 4 building [IL4], the level at which hospitals were rated due to their importance after any potential natural disaster.

“The total cost of that remediation, consultants or experts, and consequential losses is as yet undetermined and would depend on the engineering design solutions selected,” the board said.

The DHB had previously refused RNZ’s OIA requests for any review showing what went wrong with the build and who might be responsible.

An MDC spokesperson said the council was now working through “various steps in the litigation process” including exchanging relevant documents, considering whether to join other parties and collecting evidence.

“Both the council and the DHB have indicated that they are willing to attend mediation but have not yet agreed on a date for that to take place.”

The spokesperson said that because the matter was before the court, the council could not discuss the case’s merits.

However, they said the council was defending its claim.

The spokesperson said the council was unaware of any information about the hospital being unsafe for public use.

A High Court memorandum of counsel provided to the Times-Age said the council and DHB had “previously contemplated mediation to this matter in June 2022 ahead of seeking a trial date”.

But the High Court received a memorandum on November 23, 2021, stating that a trial date would be set if the proceeding was not resolved at remediation in June 2022.

“The defendant [MDC] has advised the plaintiff [the DHB] it is unlikely to be in a position to attend any mediation until late 2022 or early 2023.”

The council memorandum said the DHB wanted to proceed to trial “without delay”.

In a joint memorandum of counsel from October 27, 2020, the DHB and MDC proposed addressing unspecified matters at a case management conference.

“Some of those matters have been addressed in a joint memorandum of counsel dated November 23, 2021.”

The High Court said the DHB was likely to call between seven and 10 witnesses, and MDC was likely to call about 10.

It said the parties should advise the court if the matter proceeded to mediation ahead of trial.

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