The High Court in Wellington has found that the James Hardie Harditex product was not a cause of weathertight issues, in the second setback for homeowners suing James Hardie in as many weeks, according to a New Zealand Herald report.
The cladding system at the centre of multimillion-dollar lawsuits has been vindicated after a year-long court case involving 144 homeowners.
The Wellington High Court recently issued a statement outlining a new judgment, less than two weeks after a massive Auckland High Court class action was settled out of court, according to the report. With the court reporting James Hardie owed homeowners a duty of care, but then found homeowners had not proved Harditex caused the weathertightness issues.
A court press release stated James Hardie gave sufficient technical assistance and this guidance was properly directed to “the reasonably competent builder”.
“The court found that the product, assessed against established building science, was not flawed in its design, had been adequately tested and had independent endorsement.”
The press release also said Harditex was not proved to be materially different from sheet cladding products that preceded it.
The court’s conclusion was that the inherent flaws alleged were not proved, and the sheet was a conceptually sound product and the product could be installed in a way that would provide a weathertight house, according to the report.
In a statement, James Hardie said it was pleased with the outcome, and was sympathetic to the troubles of leaky-home owners.
The company’s Australia and New Zealand Country Manager John Arneil said, “The company notes that the plaintiffs have the right to appeal the court’s judgement in the Cridge litigation.”
Justice Simon France said Harditex was produced and marketed in New Zealand from 1987 to 2005.
“The period through which Harditex was on the New Zealand market coincides, most certainly in its later stages, with New Zealand’s leaky-building crisis. At its most general, the question this case raises is what role, if any, Harditex played in the crisis.”
Four homeowners from Karori and Island Bay led the proceedings but more than 100 others opted in. The homeowners challenged the suitability of Harditex cladding, and the method by which it had to be installed, according to the report.
As happened in the Auckland High Court class action, the Cridge arguments included claims the Harditex cladding was too difficult for builders to get right.
Justice France in his new judgment said there was less experience generally in the building sector with sheet cladding than with timber weatherboards and brick.
“So, as sheet cladding became more popular, so there was a decline in the percentage of builders familiar with the cladding they were working with.”
Justice France said, in general, reasonably competent builders could and did use Harditex to build sound, waterproof houses.