Court dashes any hopes of damages

Last updated 05:00 06/08/2009
CASE OVER: Margaret and Keith Berryman have spent 15 years fighting for damages over the collapse of a bridge leading to their farm.
CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post
CASE OVER: Margaret and Keith Berryman have spent 15 years fighting for damages over the collapse of a bridge leading to their farm.

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The latest claims for damages from a couple who want to sue over a bridge collapse that killed a beekeeper have been struck out by a High Court judge, ending their court case.

In a judgment made public yesterday, Justice Alan MacKenzie struck out the claim by Keith and Margaret Berryman, who have spent 15 years fighting for damages over the collapse of a bridge leading to their King Country farm in 1994. Beekeeper Ken Richards was killed.

On the Berrymans' behalf, lawyer Rob Moodie had taken a $4.5 million misfeasance claim against the army, who built the bridge.

To prove misfeasance, it must be shown someone in public office acted maliciously in a manner likely to cause harm or injury. The attorney-general had applied to strike out the claim.

Justice MacKenzie said the proceeding, which began in 2006, had not been started within six years of the cause of action for the alleged misfeasance in public office and if it was allowed to continue to trial, it would fail because of that limitation under law.

The judge said he had reached the clear view that it would not be in the interests of justice to allow it to continue.

"I consider that the plaintiffs [the Berrymans] face huge factual and conceptual difficulties ... there are major difficulties of causation which would have to be overcome."

He said as a matter of law that even if they established that the misfeasance affected their knowledge of a claim against the army, it did not cause any loss after April 2000 and the right to sue in respect of the construction of the bridge was barred before that date.

He agreed with the latest Court of Appeal judgment that the Berrymans were seeking to relitigate the matters that had been before the coroner in 1997.

"There can, in my view, be no public interest in allowing these matters to be further litigated in these proceedings, when there is no prospect that that might lead to the only remedy which can properly be claimed in these proceedings, namely a remedy in damages," he said.

The Berrymans made several fruitless attempts to negotiate for compensation from the Government. They were unavailable for comment yesterday.

THE ARMY BRIDGE SAGA

1986: Bridge built by the army on the Berrymans' farm.

1994: The bridge collapses as beekeeper Ken Richards is driving across it. He plunges 30 metres to his death.

1996: OSH case against couple dismissed, with bridge ruled not to be a workplace for the self-employed beekeeper.

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1997: Taumarunui coroner Tim Scott rules responsibility for the collapse "must largely lie" with the Berrymans.

2001: Couple discover army held inquiry at time of accident, carried out by civil engineer George Butcher.

2004: Lawyer Rob Moodie takes on the couple's case and pushes for Butcher report to be published.

February 2005: Army successfully challenges court ruling allowing its publication.

April 2005: Dr Moodie publishes the report online. Government asks solicitor-general to look at whether a new inquest should be held. June 2005: Solicitor-General Terence Arnold refuses another inquest.

September 2005: Berrymans take case to High Court, seeking to overturn his refusal.

April 2006: Couple sue army for $4.5 million in the High Court.

May 2006: Justice Jill Mallon quashes the 1997 coroner's findings over the bridge design but not those over matters of maintenance. She states there is to be no further inquest. 2008: Court of Appeal says claim against army can go ahead.

Yesterday: Claim struck out in the High Court, ending Berrymans' hopes of damages.

- The Dominion Post

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