The Kiwifruit Claim Group plaintiffs are digging in for a court battle extending into the New Year. This follows the Crown’s decision to appeal the recent High Court ruling that the Ministry for Primary Industries had been negligent and breached its duty of care in allowing Psa into New Zealand.
The Crown’s appeal is wide-ranging and seeks to clarify the scope under which government regulators can be sued for negligence. The Crown’s solicitors also highlighted the potential of the High Court finding to significantly impact upon biosecurity operations.
In turn both Seeka and the 212-strong grower group have filed a cross appeal.
Seeka was the only post-harvest processor to commit to the original claim action, which culminated in the favourable court ruling in June.
Seeka was excluded from the High Court action in favour of the claim as a post-harvest company, but is also represented as a significant grower.
The initial ruling only acknowledged the duty of care owed Seeka as another orchard operator and lease holder, along with the other growers, rather than the wider impact upon Seeka as a post-harvest processor to the entire sector. Seeka incurred losses of $3.9 million in the outbreak through staff redundancy costs and loss of sales revenue.
Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said the plaintiffs had predicted the Crown would appeal the ruling.
“We could not appeal first, it would have jeopardised all growers’ claims,” he said.
The cross appeal is based on two key parts of the High Court decision – one is that Seeka was also owed a duty of care as a post-harvest processor, and secondly that MPI was negligent because its staff did not check a shipment of pollen and plant matter that contained Psa when it arrived from China.
Franks confirmed to Bay of Plenty Business News that the plaintiffs, backed by LPF Litigation Funding Ltd, would be pursuing the claim to its final conclusion.
“This is all about accountability,” he said.
Grower representative John Cameron from Te Puke said the group was resigned to the hard grind of an appeal, and suspects there may be a broad range of issues within the Crown’s action.
“We were happy with the ruling when it was made and would not have appealed if the Crown had not done so first.”
Cameron said he remained confident the appeal outcome would be in the growers’ favour.
“The longer this drags out the greater the cost will be to the government as Psa continues.”
The total claim value for the impact of Psa was lodged at $450 million compensation.