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‘Inexcusable’ Delay Derails $4.7 Million Shipping Collision Claim

shipsIn an extraordinary example of litigation being derailed by the dragging of feet, ship owners who claimed $4.7 million following a maritime collision will go without a penny after the High Court struck out their case due to the ‘inordinate and inexcusable’ delay in pursuing the matter to trial.

The collision occurred on the River Amazon as long ago as May 1999. The owners issued proceedings against the proprietors of the other vessel involved the following year, but it was not until 2005 that evidence was filed. Other than sporadic without prejudice discussions, the case was then allowed to go to sleep until 2013, when the owners applied to list a case management conference.

Striking out their case, the High Court found that the delay in prosecuting the claim was not only ‘extraordinary’ but had also involved ‘persistent and serious’ breaches of the rules of the Court. The litigation had been characterised by long periods of complete inactivity and, after the Court had sent ‘numerous chasers’, it was not surprising that officials had stopped seeking further updates.

Although neither side in the dispute could escape blame for the inordinate delays, primary responsibility for them lay with the owners. The Court observed that a trial of the action could not now be held before 15 years had elapsed since the collision.

In a case which was likely to hinge on oral evidence, the master of one of the vessels was now aged 66 and retired and both harbour pilots involved had since died. With memories of what happened muddled by time, a fair trial was now impossible and a striking out order was the only option. A $32,000 counter-claim by the proprietors of the other vessel was also struck out.