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Large agriculture business

Our firm acted for one of Australia’s largest salad and vegetable farmers in Victoria, selling products to independent supermarkets and wholesale grocers. The client’s group structure comprised approximately 28 corporate entities.

In 2016, a contamination event occurred regarding some of our client’s fresh produce from an upstream event, causing a national product recall of some products. The recall event resulted in a serious business interruption to our client, losing numerous large clients, and taking many months to re-establish supply to other clients.

Proceedings were commenced in the Supreme Court of Victoria against our client’s insurance agent/broker and insurer. The claim alleged negligence because of a breach of insurance codes of conduct, common law and contractual duties, and misleading and deceptive conduct.

These claims centred on the contention that our client was led to believe it had adequate insurance to cover income lost because of a product recall, whereas such insurance cover was not in place.

The case involved, among other things:

  • Providing initial crisis management advice and services to our client.
  • A significant preliminary review of approximately 150,000 documents before discovery, and the exchange of 10,000s of further documents during discovery, for which eDiscovery software was utilised by our team and liaising with an external litigation support provider.
  • Preparation of a variety of witness statements taken from key persons of our client, and numerous insurance and accounting experts.
  • A complicated court book was added to and amended on many occasions leading up to and during the trial (as Plaintiffs, we had the responsibility for amending and updating the Court Book). Ultimately the Court Book had more than 20,000 pages.

The case dealt with expert evidence as to:

  • The nature and type of product recall/business interruption insurance cover that was available in the marketplace at or about the time of the contamination event; and
  • The loss and damage suffered by our client’s group. This involved a detailed analysis of the roles of each of the various entities in the group, including which of the entities actually suffered financial loss because of the cancellation of the supply arrangements with multiple wholesalers, supermarkets and other outlets.

The proceeding ran for more than 2.5 years, during which time three mediations did not resolve the matter. The trial ran for approximately eight days in the Supreme Court before being settled on confidential terms in 2021.

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