Stadium Southland collapse – Engineer and Council’s $17m negligence

During a heavy snowfall in September 2010, Stadium Southland’s roof collapsed. Eight people were inside the facility at the time. Miraculously, all escaped unharmed.

Following the collapse, the Stadium’s insurer issued legal proceedings against Anthony Major who was the consulting engineer responsible for the Stadium’s construction and against the Invercargill City Council (fortunately for the Southland community, the insurer also paid out a sum sufficient to construct a new and improved stadium).

In her recent decision in the High Court, Justice Dunningham found that:

  • Mr Major acted negligently by failing to monitor the roofing work, failing to ensure that the work complied with the building code and failing to provide necessary information to the Invercargill City Council (separate from the Court proceedings, Mr Major was expelled from membership of IPENZ following an investigation into the collapse); and
  • the Invercargill City Council acted negligently by failing to insist that it be provided with necessary information and instead granting code compliance certification. Justice Dunningham emphasised that, in accordance with Supreme Court decision Spencer on Byron, building regulators owe a duty of care when issuing code compliance certification regardless of the nature of the premises.

The Court awarded the Stadium’s insurers nearly $17 million in damages, of which Mr Major was apportioned 90% (however, he had already settled for $1 million) and Council was apportioned 10%. While the Council cross-claimed against Mr Major, the Council’s indemnifiers RiskPool will likely have to pay the full $17 million award as the Council and Mr Major were jointly and severally liable for the full amount (although RiskPool is considering an appeal).

The Stadium’s collapse and the Court’s judgment emphasise the importance of a robust and thorough inspection, monitoring and certification process. We are somewhat alarmed that little over one month following Justice Dunningham’s damning decision, the government has proposed de-regulation of the construction certification process.

As an aside, Justice Dunningham is to be commended for releasing her 243 paragraph decision less than one month after the final day of hearing.

Photo credit: stuff.co.nz

Photo credit: stuff.co.nz

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