There could be 2,000 legal actions, with a total value of €550 million, concerning mica-affected concrete blocks before the end of the year, the High Court has heard.
Around 1,100 cases have been issued to date.
The first to come before the Commercial Court on Monday was brought by Donegal husband and wife teachers, Liam Ó Dochartaigh and Greinne Bean Uí Dochartaigh, of Urbalreagh, Malin Head.
By Ann O’Loughlin
They are suing over damage from concrete blocks and similar products containing mica that were used to build their home between 2005 and 2008. Mica is naturally occurring in rocks but, when used as an aggregate, makes concrete weaker over time.
The couple says they have been advised their home will have to be demolished and rebuilt. They may also include in their proceedings another rental property they own at Malin Road, Carndonagh, pending the results of tests on that property.
They are suing the block suppliers, Cassidy Brothers Concrete Products Ltd, of Buncrana, Co Donegal. It is claimed the firm, among other things, provided blocks and ready-mixed concrete that were not fit for purpose and that did not meet the specifications advertised.
The case is also against Donegal County Council which, it is claimed, as the relevant “market surveillance authority” for construction products, failed to perform appropriate checks on the Cassidy blocks or to ensure they were removed from circulation.
The council also failed to carry out evaluations for non-complying products manufactured by Cassidy and to appoint a sufficient number of officers to carry out monitoring, it is alleged.
They are also suing the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) claiming that, as the national certification body, it failed to adequately and/or fully perform its obligations.
The NSAI also provided certification for Cassidy products and a system of factory production control and/or a quality management system in circumstances where the system was deficient, it is claimed.
The NSAI further failed to conduct a thorough inspection of the Cassidy manufacturing facility or to audit its operations with sufficient regularity, it is also claimed.
On Monday, the NSAI applied to Mr Justice Denis McDonald to have the action admitted to the fast-track Commercial Court.
The judge adjourned the application to January to allow discussions to take place between the parties on the number of “pathfinder” or test cases that will become a representative sample of as many cases as possible.
The NSAI brought the application because it says the solicitors representing the Ó Dochartaighs have issued some 1,184 sets of proceedings related to mica and, by the end of 2022, that figure is expected to rise to 2,000.
The NSAI head of corporate services, Mairead Buckley, said in an affidavit the total value of the cases is estimated by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Coleman Legal, to be €550 million. Coleman Legal has also said a small number of cases will help to determine the core issues across “potentially 2,000 cases”.
Ms Buckley said all the actions can be dealt with more conveniently and expeditiously in the commercial list, given the considerable economic value of the cases and the complex issues involved.
Robert Fitzpatrick SC, for the Ó Dochartaighs, said it was his side’s intention to bring an application for the proceedings to be case managed. However, he said, there was an element of prematurity in the NSAI’s application to enter them into the Commercial Court. Counsel also said there are cases that will involve claims for personal injuries and, therefore, there was “a lot of work to be done”.
A solicitor for Donegal County Council said her client was disputing the claims but did not oppose the entry application. There was no appearance for Cassidys but Jarlath Fitzsimons SC, for the NSAI, said Denis Cassidy of the firm had received delivery of the papers and signed for them.
Given the “obvious importance” of these cases, the judge said, they should be managed by the court, with other representative cases identified. The parties needed to investigate and discuss matters, he said. Therefore, he adjourned the application to enter the case to the list until January.