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Earthquake tribunal plan raises concern: ICNZ

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Proposed legislation for a new Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal does not allow insurers to initiate hearings to resolve claims, while its procedural rules have also raised concerns.

Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) CEO Tim Grafton says insurers should be able to bring claims to the tribunal as an alternative to court action and other dispute resolution systems.

“Some Cantabrians appear stuck, unable to make decisions and move their claims forward due to the enormity of the changes the earthquakes have wrought on their lives,” he said.

“A tribunal that allowed both sides to bring claims would be fair and balanced and truly working towards the goal of helping everyone find resolutions and move forward from the quakes.”

ICNZ has criticised the lack of consultation before the bill entered Parliament last week, and says many issues could have been resolved earlier. The Government has instead called for feedback during the select committee stage.

“We will engage in that process constructively because we really want to see our customers’ claims settled as quickly as possible,” Mr Grafton said. “We are still in a situation where we are getting two claims a day, on average, transferring to us from [state insurer] the Earthquake Commission.”

The tribunal, expected to start operating in Christchurch next year, would have discretion over permitting cross-examination or the use of experts, raising questions over its adherence to the usual legal rules of natural justice and fair procedure.

“If a tribunal denied experts or cross-examination, that would be an area of concern,” Mr Grafton said.

The proposed process will involve case management conferences, mediations and hearings, with the tribunal having power to make binding decisions and order payment for damages. Explanatory material specifically mentions mental distress.

“Unpicking, in the complexity of Canterbury and the scale of Canterbury, who or what contributed to the stress and how you quantify the compensation for that are matters that raise some interesting questions,” Mr Grafton told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods says the tribunal will have the flexibility to tailor its approach to each case. “The tribunal will be proactive, managing cases through the process and setting timeframes that must be followed so claims progress,” she said.