Northland motorist tries to sue road contractor for car damages caused by shoddy roads

A motorist was offered $1000 to drop a case against New Zealand’s transport agency after he filed proceedings with the Disputes Tribunal blaming the poor state of Northland roads for damage to family cars.

Richard Schofield of Mangonui rejected the $1000 offer and forged ahead with the Disputes Tribunal case, telling Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency: “The state of Northland roads is costing me money”.

The $1000 offer came from national roading contractor Fulton Hogan, which said it had responsibility on behalf of Waka Kotahi for the 878 kilometres of state highway in Northland and “it is not possible to ensure the road condition is free from damage at all times”.

The letter stated “Waka Kotahi are prepared to offer you $1000 in full and final settlement of any claims”.

Schofield was told the $1000 offer was on condition Fulton Hogan and Waka Kotahi did not accept responsibility for damage to the vehicles, that he dropped the Disputes Tribunal case – and that he signed a confidentiality agreement.

The offer came six months after Schofield emailed Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency in November seeking compensation after having four windscreens replaced and four repairs to his and his wife’s Mitsubishi ASX and 2014 Mercedes Benz.

The repairs included $1800 of damage to the rim of an alloy wheel, which he said was caused by a gap between the road and bridge on SH10 in Whangaroa.

The wheel hit the gap “with a loud bang” during shopping trips to Kerikeri, each time cracking the rim, he said.

The windscreens had been covered by insurance – but now the insurance company says too many claims had been made and windscreen cover would no longer be included.

Schofield said Fulton Hogan’s offer was “an insult”.

“The roads are crap, everyone knows how crap they are.

“Fulton Hogan are generally to blame for the state of Northland roads and their constant repairs are generally carried out in a manner that leaves the repair unswept for days if not weeks.

“Everyone knows the standards of repairs to the roads and the time it takes to get them done.”

Schofield, a now retired former accountant and company manager, moved to Mangonui from Whangārei five years ago.

The wheel hit the gap “with a loud bang” during shopping trips to Kerikeri, each time causing cracks in the rim, he said.

The windscreens had been covered by insurance – but now the insurance company says too many claims had been made and windscreen cover would no longer be included.

Schofield’s claim of $1709.25 at the Disputes Tribunal hearing in Kaitaia’s district court was heard this week. According to Schofield, the arbitrator said “that it was clear that Fulton Hogan had shown they’ve maintained the roads to NZTA standards”.

Schofield said he argued that road user taxes formed a contract to drive on “fit for purpose” roads.

“[The arbitrator] said your road user tax only gives you the right to drive on the roads.” A written decision reflecting the hearing would follow shortly.

Schofield’s complaints follow several Northern Advocate stories about shoddy repair work and a lack of maintenance across the region’s roads.

The Automobile Association has said $60m-$70m was needed to get Northland roads to an acceptable standard.

Windscreen repairers and motorists have also spoken out about an increase in chipped and cracked windscreens clocked up on state highways and roads during and after resealing.

One windscreen repairer reported a 30 to 40 per cent increase in work to fix vehicles damaged by flying loose metal.

Fulton Hogan Northland regional manager Keith Cocking said the company was “satisfied” maintenance standards were met at the place and time Schofield’s claim for damage covered.

Jeremy Browne, a director at Henderson Reeves law firm who is an expert in disputes and litigation, said motorists did not have a “contract” with Fulton Hogan or Waka Kotahi NZTA.

In some situations, a negligence claim could be taken to argue a duty of care but that would be a stretch, he said.

“If someone came to see me about this, I’d say contact your local MP and make it a political issue, and go to the media put some pressure on NZTA. That’s your best option.”

Waka Kotahi ducked questions on the case, saying Fulton Hogan was the party involved in the Disputes Tribunal case. It’s a position that appears contrary to documents supplied by Schofield that show Waka Kotahi was the named respondent in the case.

The roading agency’s statement of intent says: “Transport is an essential part of daily life for all New Zealanders and using the transport system safely, without fear of losing a life, is the right of all New Zealanders.”

It had previously defended its “robust quality assurance processes”, saying maintenance work was delivered to an appropriate standard.

“Significant investments” are being made to improve the safety of state highways in Northland, Waka Kotahi Northland system manager Jacqui Hori-Hoult said.

That included $38m on repairs and resurfacing on 574km single lanes across Northland state highways between 2018 and 2021.

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