Family Waited 22 Years for a Court Decision Only to Face an Appeal

Ruby Drake A
Lawyer for Vaivaimuli Corporation, Ms. Ruby Drake.

APIA, SAMOA – 06 AUGUST 2020: Owners of the Vaivaimuli Corporation at Sataua, Savaii waited for 22 years for the Court to deliver its decision on their claim against the National Pacific Insurance Company.  This week, they are in court again as that decision is being appealed.

The matter was heard by the former Chief Justice, Patū Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu on the 29 April 1997 and the decision reserved.

The decision was finally delivered in August last year and the family thought of it as closure to a longstanding matter. However, they are back in court arguing to uphold the decision in the Court of Appeal this week.

Background to the case

Vaivaimuli Corporation is owned by Lesatele Rapi and Tiresa Vaai and children. In 1986, they completed building a two storey building at Sataua for their business that included a shop, and storage rooms for cocoa and copra.

Atinae Vaai, one of Lesa’s sons who was the manager, secured an insurance policy for the business with National Pacific Insurance which he provided payments annually up to 1989.

In 1990, Cyclone Ofa totally destroyed the business. Four days after the cyclone, Atinae approached NPI for assistance only to be told the business was not under the cyclone cover policy.

Vaai argued why he was not told about it, but the evidence presented by NPI at the trial was that they decided to exclude all cyclone cover in Samoa unless they comply with certain things, but failed to inform their clients.

Vaivaimuli Corporation lawyer Ruby Drake argued that her client never received a notice informing them of the exclusion from cyclone cover, but only received a letter to renew their policy.

Vaivaimuli Corporation then took legal action and the matter was heard before former Chief Justice Patū Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu on the 29 April1997 and the decision was reserved.

Leaving court, NPI General Manager, Joanne Rasmussen, Ruby Drake and Fiona Eye, counsel for NPI.

Long delay in the court decision

With the delay in the court decision, lawyer Ruby Drake persisted and persevered in writing to the Court for a decision to be delivered.

She even wrote to complain to the Minister for Justice, Faaolesa Katopau Ainuu with the hope that will move Patū to deliver his decision.

“The Minister assured me that he had spoken to the CJ, but still nothing happened,” she said.

“This is just one of many cases we had to resort to somebody else, and this is what the public does not know but it is what we have to deal with,” said Ruby Drake.

She said this was after Patū was given a second extension after his retirement to finalise all his reserved decisions.

“I wrote back to the Minister informing him respectfully to ask the CJ to take time off to write his decision,” she said.

When asked if there was a legal timeframe for a decision to be delivered, she said it was always within “reasonable time which means at least 3 to 4 months, not 22 years.”

She also pointed out that there are many other cases with outstanding decisions yet to be delivered.

The Appeal

Due to the length of time, 22 years that took Patū to deliver his decision, NPI is arguing that it is unsafe for a decision to be delivered after a long delay.

They are also arguing that the Judge did not analyse the evidence of the case, and that their case files are lost.

Ruby Drake said she was asked to submit her clients’ statement of claim and statement of defence again.

She argued that despite the delay, the judgment of CJ Patū must be upheld. “After all the circumstances revolving this case; there is still no justice for my client.”

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