8th March 2013

Land-damage assessments at red-zoned Christchurch properties have gone under the microscope at a High Court insurance wrangle.

Matt and Valerie O’Loughlin are disputing the repair value offered by insurer Tower for their earthquake-damaged Dallington home and took legal action seeking full replacement.

Geotechnical engineer Nick Harwod was yesterday forced to defend his assessment, which contributed to Tower’s decision to deem the house repairable. His calculations, based on the average of three land tests, found the house could be relevelled within the building code guidelines.

The O’Loughlins’ lawyer, Grant Shand, said had Harwood not rounded down the individual figures, the final average should rule out the relevelling option.

Harwood had “tried to produce a number . . . supporting Tower’s repair strategy”, Shand said. His firm, Coffey Geotechnics, had completed more than 600 assessments for Tower.

Harwood said Shand’s implication suggested he had “behaved unethically”.

“You said I tried to do something, but actually I’m independent of Tower. I’ve been commissioned by Tower, but I’ve not been put under any duress or anything like that by Tower to produce a number for them,” he said.

Calculating land damage was not an exact science and averaging the data was “the best we could do”, he said.

There was no “go, no-go number” and the factors must be considered “holistically”.

Engineer Samuel Polson said the O’Loughlins’ property was prone to minor or moderate lateral settlement only and the relevelling repair strategy was appropriate.

Quantity surveyor Peter Eggleton reviewed the cost estimates submitted by Tower and the O’Loughlins’ representatives, World Claim.

World Claim’s initial estimate of $1.35 million was “grossly excessive”, he said.

Eggleton estimated a rebuild on the Gayhurst Rd site would cost $562,000, or $493,000 on good land outside the red zone. His estimate to rebuild on red-zoned land was later increased to $647,500 after he reviewed it with a colleague.

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