Homeowners' pyrite cases must wait

 

Hundreds of homeowners in north Dublin face a long wait before their legal actions over defects in their houses will be heard after a High Court judge ruled today it would be inappropriate and unjust for some of their cases to proceed before the court battle between Menolly Homes and companies in the Lagan group over liability for the defects has concluded.

Menolly has sued the Lagan companies alleging cracks and swelling in hundreds of houses on three estates in north Dublin built by Menolly were caused by defective pyrite infill supplied by the defence.

The action is by Menolly Homes against Irish Asphalt Limited (IAL) and several companies in the Lagan group and arises from defects in houses in the Drynam, Myrtle and Beaupark estates. Lagan has denied liability in an action that opened in February 2009 before Mr Justice Paul Gilligan and is expected to run for at least another year.

As the judge’s eventual decision may be appealed to the Supreme Court, it could then take another year or more after that before a final decision on liability is reached. The final costs bill is likely to be well over €20 million.

In those circumstances, lawyers for affected homeowners applied last week to Mr Justice Gilligan to allow some 13 cases proceed either before him or another judge. They also argued the “vast resources” being spent on the lengthy court battle between Menolly and Lagan would be better spent on actually repairing the houses.

Some 400 homes are allegedly affected with one lawyer estimating the repair bill for his 175 clients at some €17.5 million based on a minimum €100,000 claim. Menolly says it is doing its best to help homeowners, and the Lagan companies, who deny liability for the damage, claim the “vast majority” of defects are of “no significance”.

Mr Justice Gilligan today said he was acutely conscious of and sympathised with the position of the 400 homeowners.

The fact the Menolly/Lagan action has not concluded yet was due to it taking on much greater proportions than the court was initially led to believe and also because several months last year were taken up by motions relating to discovery failures by both sides, he said.

It was “reprehensible” so much time was necessarily lost by the court having to deal with those motions, necessitating an extensive judgment dealing with the many issues raised.

The Menolly/Lagan action was to recommence shortly, he noted.

The judge said there was no basis for the claim the vast resources being spent on the case would be put to better use repairing the houses. The Menolly side was, among other reliefs, seeking a full indemnity from Lagan in respect of all the homeowners claims, he noted.

If the 13 cases were allowed proceed now, the Menolly group could be exposed to extensive financial liability which would be unjust, inappropriate and an enormous waste of court time given the existing dispute as to liability between Menolly and Lagan.

Allowing the 13 cases proceed without the liability issue being determined in the Menolly/Lagan case would also not in any way advance the position of the other 387 homeowners, he said. In all the circumstances, it was best to allow the Menolly/Lagan case proceed to its conclusion before dealing with the 13 cases.