Fonterra is suing Icepak for about $25 million worth of cheese that went up in flames after the fatal explosion at its Tamahere coolstore in 2008.
The case is among a web of legal proceedings set to kick off in the High Court at Hamilton next month as affected parties begin their fight to recoup costs, reports the Waikato Times.
It came to light as solicitors for Tauranga-based refrigeration company Mobile Refrigeration Specialists confirmed they had filed an application for special leave to the Court of Appeal over the fine imposed in sentencing in the Hamilton District Court in December.
While Icepak, now known as Waikato Coldstorage Ltd, is being chased for costs by Fonterra, it has also launched its own civil proceedings against those involved in the construction and maintenance of its coolstores. The targets include the company at Icepak’s side in the firing line – Mobile Refrigeration Specialists (MRS) and its director Warren Cook.
MRS counsel Shane Elliott of Russell McVeagh, Wellington, confirmed there were initially two hearings held separately – one in Tauranga, the other in Hamilton – but both had now been merged and an interlocutory hearing is set for August.
Along with MRS and Mr Cook, those understood to face proceedings by Icepak include Brian Lind, Hazardous Substances Bay of Plenty Ltd and John Clear Electrical.
Fonterra lost an estimated $25 million worth of cheese – between 2000 and 4000 tonnes of colby, cheddar and similar cheeses – which was stored at the coolstore.
“As a result of the fire and destruction of the better part of the site, there are various claims that have been brought by both Icepak itself … and also by customers of Icepak who had stock stored in the coolstore at the time,” Mr Elliott said. “Icepak’s entire site was destroyed, so they will be trying to recover those losses and anybody who had stuff in the coolstore at the time will also be trying to recover losses of their stock.”
Affected parties had varying degrees of insurance; some with no insurance at all.
When contacted, Mr Cook said he was unclear about the court proceedings.
“It’s beyond me what all the solicitors and courts do; I’m just not legally minded.”
However, he said his company could simply not afford any fine.
“If we do have to pay we don’t have the money to pay it, so we won’t have a business any longer.”
Most of his lawyer’s bill would be covered by his insurance, he said.
MRS filed its third appeal application against its Tamahere fire sentence on June 25.
It’s a last-ditch effort for MRS which argues the $56,200 fine was “manifestly excessive”.
The move came just one week after Justice Heath dismissed its last application in the Court of Appeal on June 18.
Mr Elliott said their argument was still the same: “MRS has very little financial capacity to pay any fine and the fine imposed is well beyond that capacity.”
A hearing date is yet to be confirmed.