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Edgecumbe flood class action still alive

The Edgecumbe flood occurred on April 6, 2017, when the stopbank burst damaging around 300 homes.

More than four years after the Edgecumbe flood, civil litigation specialist Shine Lawyers is investigating a class action lawsuit against Bay of Plenty Regional Council on behalf of residents.

The lawsuit is not new, having been started in 2018 by Rangitaiki Community Board member Graeme Bourk, but has languished due to the death of one of the key lawyers leading it.

On April 6, 2017, an estimated 300 people suffered property damage when the Rangitaiki River breached the stopbank. In 2018, almost 275 signed on to take part in the lawsuit.

However, Queen’s Council David Heaney became ill and died in May last year, and funding for the case disappeared.

Graeme says, after that, the remaining lawyers were coming to him with other ideas, but it was going to cost people money.

“Our first deal was that it was going to cost nobody anything, and if they won, they got a cut of the takings, which is the normal way of doing things,” he says.

He did not put a stop to the action, but just stepped back from it until he was approached by Shine Lawyers, one of the biggest civil litigation firms in Australasia, who have offices in Auckland and Christchurch.

The firm boasts world famous civil class action lawyer Erin Brockovich as its brand ambassador.

“They came out of the blue,” says Graeme.

“I was quite surprised. All of a sudden, I got an email from them, so I rang them. They knew the case.”

The firm has told him it has confidence in the case and will take responsibility for finding a funder for the suit so it will not cost the members of the class action anything.

He expects about 100 people to take part in the lawsuit, significantly fewer than in 2018.

“Some people have died, but a lot of people have moved away, too. I’ve moved to Kawerau now, from Edgecumbe. So, there’s not that 300 people anymore.

“Because it has dragged on so long, people have got tired of it. They just come to the stage where they give in. But it’s definitely going to go ahead.”

Rangitaiki Community Board member Graeme Bourk is behind the class action lawsuit against Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

The lawsuit hinges on whether the regional council knew that the stopbank could burst and failed to do anything about it.

Graeme says the flood could have been easily prevented.

“They were told about it for many years. Since the 2004 flood, they were told about it, by several people literally every year. But they were hoping it would just go away.”

The potential class action would seek compensation on behalf of residents for property damage; damaged, lost, or destroyed contents; business interruption and general damages for distress and inconvenience.

Anyone who suffered loss as a result of the flood can take part in the suit.

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