Civil justice responses to natural disaster: New Zealand’s Christchurch High Court Earthquake List

The Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 generated hundreds of thousands of insurance claims, many of which were disputed. The New Zealand justice system faced the same challenge encountered by other jurisdictions following a natural disaster: how to resolve these disputes quickly and at minimal cost but also fairly, to avoid compounding the disaster with injustice? The thesis is of this article is that although the earthquakes were catastrophic for New Zealand, they also created a unique opportunity to design an innovative civil justice process—the Christchurch High Court Earthquake List—and to test, over a relatively short timeframe, how well that process works. This article describes the Christchurch High Court Earthquake List and analyses it by reference to civil justice theory about the relative normative values of public adjudication and private settlement and the dialogic relationship between them. It then evaluates the List, using statistics available five years on from the earthquakes and by reference to the author’s own experience mediating earthquake disputes.

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