EQC engineer's insurer pays over wall collapse

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013
The retaining wall on the Mangarau Stream in Havelock North that was the subject of legal action against EQC engineer Graeme Robinson.
OBJECT OF CONTENTION: The retaining wall on the Mangarau Stream in Havelock North that was the subject of legal action against EQC engineer Graeme Robinson.
Graeme Robinson
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
Graeme Robinson

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The collapse of a retaining wall designed by the engineer used by the Earthquake Commission (EQC) as its engineering authority has resulted in a $140,000 settlement.

According to court documents issued by the Napier District Court to The Press, EQC engineer Graeme Robinson was sued by Havelock North couple Bernard and Frances Walsh last year about a stream retaining wall he designed. He also supervised its construction.

The case ended in a settlement late last year with Robinson's insurance company paying close to $140,000 to the Walshes. The documents show it initially offered $30,000 to settle the claim.

Robinson was the subject of a Press investigation last year which uncovered a raft of Christchurch cases in which he was accused of arrogance and substandard assessments. He is being investigated by the Institution of Professional Engineers.

After The Press investigation he was withdrawn from EQC's front line and now trains engineers used by EQC. The commission previously told The Press he was used to ensure it had "got everything exactly right from an engineering perspective".

Robinson was hired in 2005 to design a batter wall to protect and bolster the Mangarau Stream bank below the Walshes' property. The original wall was damaged by floodwaters and EQC engaged Robinson to design and oversee the appropriate remedial and preventive works.

The new wall was completed in December 2006 and started to collapse from October 2009, putting the Walshes' house at serious risk.

EQC refused to reinstate the wall designed by Robinson because remedial work done in 2006 did not comply with building laws.

The Walshes alleged Robinson:

Failed to carry out foundation checks or any formal design or engineering calculations.

Failed to ensure his design complied with the building code.

Failed to seek or obtain the necessary building and resource consents.

"This led to a retaining wall being designed and constructed that was substandard and unsafe, having a poor bearing capacity and an unacceptable factor of safety," they claimed.

They also said the Hawke's Bay Regional Council had warned Robinson of the failure of similarly designed constructions.

The Walshes had to spend $14,000 on new engineering advice and estimated it would cost $80,000 to rebuild the wall.

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In his court documents, Robinson said he was engaged by EQC to remedy landslip damage and protect against imminent loss. He claimed the contractor who built the wall deviated from his design.

He had not sought building consents because he did not regard the works as a retaining wall, he submitted.

"I advised the need for further work at the upstream end of the batter which the plaintiff addressed directly with the contractor. That work caused the failure," he claimed in court documents.

The documents reveal the Walshes responded by saying the additional work was not structural and simply tied the works back to the existing stream bank. It had no bearing on the failure.

They also responded to Robinson's claim they had got the contractor to increase the steepness of the batter, saying Robinson had approved the variation and amended his drawings accordingly.

The Walshes denied having any input into the gradient of the wall.

Robinson did not respond to email messages from The Press.

A spokesman for EQC said as EQC was not involved in the proceeding, it was not appropriate to comment.

Bernard Walsh said he and his family just wanted to get on with the repairs and did not want to say anything further.

- The Press

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