Email man says EQC owes him $700k

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 17:46 27/03/2013
Bryan Staples, EQC email blunder
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ

OPENED EMAIL: Earthquake Commission critic Bryan Staples was unintentionally sent details of 98,000 claims from 83,000 people. "They could not have sent it to a worse person," he said.

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The Earthquake Commission has laid a complaint with police against the recipient of an accidental email release of private information relating to 83,000 damaged homes.

Bryan Staples, who owns Earthquake Services, received the email after a mistake by an EQC manager, and has since promised not to keep or copy the email.

The email and spreadsheet attachments were seen and inspected by another four or five people at his office.

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson said the action was taken because the recipient has gone back on his word and in the process may have broken the law.

Staples said today EQC was refusing to pay overdue invoices from his company amounting to about  $700,000 and he would ''recall the attachment'' so he could take his claims to court.

The information in the email would show what value EQC had allocated to each of the repairs he was involved with, he said.

A statutory declaration he signed on Monday presented no bar to him retrieving the email, which was still in his Gmail trash box.

Staples claimed he had many angry contractors who were pressuring him for their money.

''The confidential information was released by mistake. We have apologised for that and we are determined not to add to any distress already caused by the mistake,'' Simpson said.

Simpson said Staples had emailed EQC saying: ''If you pay these accounts in full within the required time frame, there will be no media announcement and the matter will die a natural death.''

The invoices for which Staples was seeking payment for related to work that he commenced without EQC prior approval, Simpson said.

''EQC is treating these invoices in the same way as we treat other situations where a customer chooses to do repair work themselves and then invoices EQC without first seeking EQC's approval. EQC does not pay invoices on a no questions asked basis.''

EQC was not aware of any valid opt out invoices for any contractor or customer that were overdue.  

''In these circumstances, Mr Staples (and his customers) are in a position where they have voluntarily taken on the commercial risk for this unapproved repair work.

"In these circumstances, EQC has to confirm that the claimed damage was caused by earthquake and form a view on its repair costs. Clearly we can only pay when we are satisfied our criteria are met.''

Wellington public law  lawyer Mai Chen said Staples clearly knew the information in the email was confidential and had said as much himself.

''He needs to be worried because breach of confidence applies for use as well as disclosure to third parties.

''Use of the information in litigation could bring legal protections into play but his promises might stop him from accessing the protections.’’

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