After almost 11 years, a resolution has been reached in the litigation between The Crown and New Zealand’s kiwifruit sector over the 2010 incursion of the kiwifruit vine disease, Psa.
The plaintiffs, Strathboss Kiwifruit, representing a group of kiwifruit growers, and Seeka, a post-harvest operator, and others, have agreed to accept a Crown offer of NZ$40m, which includes a significant contribution from the Crown’s insurers of NZ$15m.
The plaintiffs had brought a claim for NZ$450m plus interest. The claim related to actions taken by the then Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and pre-dates the establishment of the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Ministry for Primary Industries director general Ray Smith said all parties agreed it was time to move on and bring a close to the legal challenges that have been running since 2014, when the claimants filed against the Crown for what they alleged was actionable negligence in allowing Psa into the country.
'This payment to settle is a sensible one on a per head basis given the number of claimants in the class action, and their legal and litigation funder costs,” said Smith.
'But the settlement acknowledges the grievance felt by the kiwifruit sector plaintiffs.'
Smith said settling now confirms the earlier judgment of the Court of Appeal. 'In its decision of April 2020, the Court of Appeal found it would not be fair, just or reasonable to make the Crown legally responsible for losses of this kind, and that therefore, no legal duty of care was owed by the relevant MAF staff to the plaintiffs. The staff were protected by a statutory immunity, as was the Crown.'
The claimants had appealed this ruling in the Supreme Court. The agreement means this hearing will now be vacated.
Smith noted the settlement gives immediate financial certainty for the Crown and avoids a complex Supreme Court hearing and then needing to wait for the Court’s decision which could take some time.
'It is good that all parties can now move on from this event which goes back 11 years,' commented Smith.
'Since that time, much work has been done to enhance and improve the way we manage pre-border risk, import processes at the border and incursions that inevitably occur.
'New Zealanders can have confidence in our current biosecurity system,' concluded Smith.