Supreme Court appeal for more quake compensation fails

The Supreme Court has dismissed a Canterbury man's appeal to be awarded more compensation money after his land was damaged by rockfalls in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

The man, referred to as Mr Young in the ruling released on Monday, owns land lying beneath cliffs that were damaged in the earthquakes.

The neighbouring clifftop properties were treated as within the red zone, and the Crown acquired them between 2012 and 2015.

Young's property was also red zoned because the ongoing instability of the cliffs made his land unsafe.

He rejected a series of red zone offers the Crown made to buy his property, and instead started a court case against the Crown "in nuisance".

A "private nuisance" is described as "an unreasonable interference with someone's right to use or enjoy their land".

The High Court dismissed Young's claim.

"The Court considered the rockfall risk was an actionable nuisance and that accordingly there was what was described as a 'measured' duty on the Crown to do what was reasonable to prevent or minimise that risk," the ruling said.

"It found that the Crown's red zone offer meant that the Crown had done all it needed to do to meet that duty. Consequently, there was no obligation to compensate Mr Young fully for his loss."

The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, with Young in late 2022 choosing to appeal the Court of Appeal's decision that agreed with the High Court's findings.

Young argued that the red zone offer was not fair.

He wanted the Court to award damages of $2 million, reflecting broadly half of the value of the property he lost because of the instability of the cliffs on the Crown land.

Alternatively, he wanted an award of damages of just over $1.2 million. He said there were options for remediating the property which would enable him to remain on and use some of his land.

The Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed Young's appeal.

The reasons included that the hazard was both on the land owned by Young and that purchased by the Crown, and that the Crown only acquired the clifftop land in the context of a natural disaster.

The Supreme Court saw the case as one where nothing further was required of the Crown than to warn Young of the risks and assist with access to his property - which it had done.

The ruling said the red zone offer remained open for Young to accept.