Paul Grimshaw’s litigation boutique has made a significant mark on the local legal landscape, as one of the few plaintiff firms that has been created in recent years.
Additionally, the firm has handled class action lawsuits focused on the leaky homes issue.
From a start in Auckland over a decade ago, Grimshaw & Co has grown to a staff of 40, 25 of them lawyers or legal executives and with offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
The growth has also seen the firm expand into most areas of commercial litigation, although defectively constructed buildings remain the basis of the firm’s work. Poorly built buildings remain a problem, says principal and founder Paul Grimshaw.
“It’s unfortunate that buildings are still being constructed poorly, and that all types of buildings are being affected. For example, we have many buildings that are built from concrete, where the concrete panels are cracking and the underlying steel structure is unsound and unsafe. We are also seeing an upsurge of commercial buildings with significant issues. In short, the problem has grown from the classic leaky building – residential unit/house, with rotten timber framing – to large scale developments built from many different cladding materials.
Grimshaw & Co started in Auckland a little over 10 year ago, with only a few lawyers and has grown to a total staff of around 40 ( legal staff of 25 ) , with offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The firm’s initial focus was leaky building work, but we have since expanded in to most areas of commercial litigation, although the emphasis is still on defectively constructed buildings.
So how has this defective construction been allowed to take place over the last couple of decades?
Primarily, I think, because of deregulation. Prior to the 1991 Building Act, each Council had their own by laws, which basically told you how to build a house to a certain standard. The problem was that each council’s by laws were different, which lead to confusion in the construction industry ( e.g. different rules in Rodney to say Auckland ) , so the government did away with all the bylaws and replaced them with the Act and The Building Code.
The problem is that the code is prescriptive, rather than prescriptive – it doesn’t really tell you how the build the house, rather it just says that you should keep water out ( E2 of the code ) or the structure should last for 50 years ( B2 ).
Added to this problem was the deregulation of the building industry, whereby anyone who could hold a hammer seemed to be able to call themselves a builder.
And of course the poor Council practices which did not pick up the construction defects during their inspections of the building leading up to the council incorrectly issuing a code compliance certificate, stating that the building complied with the building code. A perfect storm.
Hundreds of Millions in Recovery
Over the last decade, Paul Grimshaw says his firm has successfully recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for plaintiff owners, “and it feels good to get them enough money back so that they can rebuild their houses and to get on with their lives.”
The challenge to obtain those returns can however be significant.
“It can be logistically challenging – one statement of claim in the High Court, for example, may contain 400 plaintiffs – so we need precise structures in place to keep track of all owners and our solicitors need to carefully review and examine each individual claim.”
In an age where litigation funding has become more significant, encouraging the filing of lawsuits that might not otherwise see the light of day, Paul Grimshaw has some warnings.
“My advice would be if you can afford to pay your lawyer ( or can come to some form of accommodation with them ) , then don’t use litigation funders, because they tend to take about 30 – 40% of the judgment sum / settlement in fees, and this figure would be much more than a lawyer would actually charge you.
He acknowledges that those who cannot afford to fun a case have no option.
More Failing Buildings
In the meantime, Grimshaw & Co continues to receive new instructions that includes not the “classic timber framed” buildings, but concrete, steel and new claddings, as well as failed remedial work.
But if the client can’t afford to run the case, then a litigation funder is probably the only option.
EQC’s estimate for ‘defective fixes’ following the Christchurch earthquakes are now at 12,000, while the issues following the November earthquakes affecting Wellington and elsewhere have also shown considerable defects with even new buildings.
It is apparent therefore that the continuing disaster of leaky homes and defective repairs and materials is one that will continue to send clients to firms like Grimshaw & Co.
Grimshaws have also developed strong relationships with technology partners in order to use best practices when it comes to meeting the varied demands of staff, clients and the courts.
The firm recently introduced a paperless trial following changes to the Courts’ civil electronic document protocol, using memory sticks with often thousands of documents.
“You need only click on the document name to be taken to the document itself. In Court, each party has a screen and the document which someone is referring to is displayed on the screen. The trial is scheduled to run for 10 weeks.”
All was going well with the trial he told LawFuel.
Similarly, the quest for work/life balance has also seen the firm provide the ability for clients to work from home as well as the office and to properly integrate good practices in terms of how staff operate to allow for their personal as well as professional requirements.