A High Court judge has made directions aimed at ensuring liability issues in two separate cases arising from a major fire at Douglas Village shopping centre in Cork should be decided in a “structured and cost efficient way”.
Mr Justice Denis McDonald made the directions when ruling on a pre-trial application by various entities being sued by the owners of the centre.
The owners are seeking more than €30 million damages after an allegedly defective Opel Zafira B car went on fire in the centre's car park, allegedly resulting in a major fire on August 31 2019 and "immense damage" to the centre.
No one was injured in the fire but the centre closed afterwards and only reopened last November. The owners say the costs of demolition and rebuilding of the car park, associated business interruption and other aspects of repair are expected to exceed €30 million.
Avoncore Ltd and Canmont Ltd, trading as the Douglas Village Shopping Centre, have sued Irish-incorporated Leeson Motors Ltd, which allegedly distributed and sold an Opel Zafira B Model car, with a 06 C registration, manufactured and designed by a second defendant, Adam Opel GmbH, based in Germany.
Their case is also against Opel Automobile GmbH, also incorporated in Germany, which, since Groupe PSA acquired the Opel brand in 2017, has been involved in continuing recall campaigns launched before Groupe PSA acquired the Opel brand, including in respect of Zafira B models. Vauxhall Motors Ltd, incorporated in the UK, is sued as allegedly responsible for the conduct and management of recalls of the Zafira B vehicles in the UK and having liaised with Leeson Motors Ltd with regard to recalls in Ireland.
Ms Nagham Mohsen, of Lehenaghmore, Cork, whose Opel Zafira car burst into flames shortly after she had parked it on level two of the car park on the day of the fire, is a third party to the proceedings.
A full defence has been filed by the dedendant firms, including denials of liability and denials the Opel Zafira B was manufactured with a defective heating and ventilation system which led to the emergence in 2015 of a “sudden increase in vehicle fires involving the Zafira B”.
A separate case by the occupiers of five retail units in the shopping centre, referred to as the Callistoy proceedings, is against Ms Mohsen and the same defendants, except Vauxhall, as in the Avoncore proceedings.
In their pre-trial application in the Avoncore case, the defendants, apart from Adam Opel GmbH, wanted the action stayed until the determination of core issues in the Callistoy case. It was argued those issues are substantially the same as in the Avoncore case and it would save court time and costs to stay the Avoncore case until they were decided.
In his decision on Thursday, Mr Justice McDonald refused to grant a stay for reasons including, if a stay was granted in either case and the other case settled, the plaintiffs in the outstanding case could experience significant delay in having the liability issues decided.
He instead directed both cases should continue to be case managed and proceed on the basis all issues of liability will be addressed in a single trial separately from the amount of any damages that may, subject to the findings on liability, be payable.
The parties in both cases should make every effort to avoid any duplication of costs in relation to pre-trial steps, including discovery of documents, he added.