Couple sues lawyers over luxury holiday perk

ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 10:13 31/08/2014
Matakauri Lodge

SPLENDOUR: Matakauri Lodge has a setting on the edge of Lake Wakatipu in keeping with its reputation as one of New Zealand’s finest luxury lodges.

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A Kiwi couple's assurance of a lifetime of free luxury stays in one of the country's top resorts - which played host to Prince William and Kate this year - has been dashed.

Graeme and Susan Shaw started the exclusive Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown, which these days boasts rooms costing between $595 and $12,750 a night, including access to an infinity pool, luxury spa, restaurant and views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables.

They have now gone to court seeking compensation from their lawyers after the new owners found they didn't have to let the Shaws stay.

Prince William and wife Kate hid away at the lodge for a night without baby George during their royal tour in April, and last month controversial internet tycoon and would-be political heavyweight Kim Dotcom holidayed there with his family and estranged wife Mona, complete with a team of security, nannies and a personal assistant.

When the Shaws sold the lodge in 2001 for $7 million, they had a clause written into the sales agreement which they believed secured them a week's free stay at "full board" every year from then on.

It was to be a "privilege . . . personal to Mr and Mrs Shaw".

The lodge has since passed on to other owners and is now one of three luxury getaways in New Zealand owned by American billionaire Julian Robertson.

Robertson, nicknamed The Wizard of Wall Street, headed the world's largest hedge fund, Tiger Management, in the 1980s. In 2001, Forbes estimated his personal worth at $2.3 billion.

Robertson bought the lodge in 2009 for $12 million and the Shaws found their free board suddenly gone.

That particular perk dropped out of the sale agreement when Robertson snapped up the property.

Robertson, now in his 80s, orchestrated major renovations when he purchased, then re-opened Matakauri in late-2010.

His son and lodge managing director Jay Robertson said Matakauri was sold without any obligation for it to provide an annual stay for the Shaws.

Despite taking a hard line on refusing the Shaws a free holiday, he said the Robertson family retained an agreeable relationship with Graeme Shaw and there were no hard feelings.

The Shaws headed to the High Court to take their lawyers to task - they claimed the lawyers had botched the wording of their perk clause and cost them their posh holidays. They had intended the perk clause to be permanent and forced as an obligation onto everyone who bought the lodge in the future.

The Shaws said lawyers MaCalister Todd Phillips were negligent and wanted $215,752 in compensation, plus $60,000 general damages for "distress, anxiety, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment".

But it was another piece of legal fine print that spelt the end to the Shaws' dreams.

At the High Court in Invercargill, Associate Judge Rob Osborne ruled on Friday that the Shaws would get no compensation - because they filed their claim against the law firm too late.

They only took the lawsuit to court in May this year.

Under New Zealand law, a claim for "breach of a duty of care", has to be filed within six years of the alleged loss.

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The Mactodd law firm said the Shaws had taken the claim too late under the Limitation Act and the judge agreed.

Osborne said because of the technicality "the court is accordingly not called upon to determine whether Mr and Mrs Shaw's claim is arguable on the facts".

Robertson owns Kauri Cliffs in Northland, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay and Matakauri Lodge.

His love affair with New Zealand prompted him to donate 15 paintings to Auckland Art Gallery in 2009. He became an honorary New Zealand knight later that year.

However, Robertson's private life has not always been easy. His wife of 38 years, Josie Robertson, passed away in 2010 after a long battle with breast cancer.

Josie, a well-known philanthropist, was arguably the design eye and passion behind the family's three luxury lodges. Robertson visited New Zealand and stayed in all three lodges in 2011, taking in the parts of New Zealand he once enjoyed visiting with his wife.

PAY TO STAY: Graeme and Susan Shaw will have to be paying guests if they want to stay at Matakauri Lodge, the hotel they started.

- Sunday Star Times

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