Lodge fire claim burns on

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It was a “nightmare” fire for Glenorchy’s Blanket Bay lodge and legal embers still glow six years on.

The December 2003 blaze at the $1925-per-night lodge has been fanned by a fresh Court of Appeal judgement.
Blanket Bay owner Charterhall Trustees is trying to sue Queenstown Lakes District Council and local architects Blair and Co. for $304,000 – it’s understood the action is driven by Blanket Bay insurers.

Sums claimed are $97,000 for repairs and chattels plus $207,000 for lost income after a two-week closure.

At the time of the blaze, Blanket Bay boss Philip Jenkins called it a nightmare. A chimney fire spread into the ceiling, forcing the evacuation of 14 guests – no one was hurt.

The new Appeal Court verdict arose from a bid by QLDC to strike out Blanket Bay’s claim – an earlier strike-out hearing in the High Court went against the council.

The appeal judgement says Blanket Bay was alleging “the fire was caused by the defective design and/or construction of the lodge’s chimney”.

QLDC, so the allegation went, breached a duty of care to Blanket Bay by failing to pick up non-compliance with the building code and issuing a final code of compliance certificate after the lodge’s completion in 1999.

Blanket Bay lawyers also threw in a new health and safety argument at the Appeal Court, claiming QLDC should have exercised “reasonable care and skill” to ensure guests and staff “would be safeguarded from injury, illness or loss of amenity, and protected from harm by fire”.

But the Appeal Court didn’t buy this new line – or the old ones either – favouring QLDC by striking out the lodge insurer’s claim. The new argument was rejected because Blanket Bay isn’t “a person whose health and safety has been put at risk” but a business whose “economic interests have been injured”.

Turfing out the lodge insurer’s remaining arguments, the Appeal Court drew on legal precedents from leaky-building and defective-foundation cases.

“We accept [the QLDC lawyer’s] submission that the Building Act does not seek to protect the value of buildings, or income streams from them, for commercial investors.”

Rather than sue QLDC, the court said, Blanket Bay insurers should go their architects and “other specialist advisers” such as fire safety engineers.

It’s not known whether the fresh judgement will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Architects Blair and Co are understood to be vigorously defending their end of the claim, because the local firm was simply “retained” by Blanket Bay’s lead architects from overseas.