Family of boy who died at Kangaroo Valley ordered to pay $8m

Nathan Chaina with his father, George. Photo: Supplied
Nathan Chaina with his father, George. Photo: Supplied

A half a million dollar payout to the parents of Scots College student Nathan Chaina after he died on a school camp has been dwarfed by the $8.3 million costs order made against the couple following an 11-year legal battle.

The crushing judgment is compounded by the revelation that the Chainas were offered $8.16 million to settle the case in 2010, which they rejected.

On October 23, 1999, 15-year-old Nathan fell into a flooded river at Kangaroo Valley and drowned while he and his older brother, Mathew, who saw the accident, were taking part in a hike as part of a school camp.

A coronial inquest found the prestigious private school was liable for the death because it failed to prepare the students properly for the difficult conditions they faced and ignored the day's weather forecast.

Rita and George Chaina in a file picture. Photo: Ben Rushton

Rita and George Chaina in a file picture. Photo: Ben Rushton

In 2002, Nathan's parents Rita and George Chaina claimed damages for nervous shock and for the effect of their son's death on their cleaning products business.

The Chainas initially sought more than $300 million in damages, claiming they were prevented from launching a revolutionary new cleaning product.

However, in May, a Supreme Court judge awarded the couple just $492,373, finding that they were capable of returning to work in some capacity a few years after the accident.

Justice David Davies also found Mr Chaina had lied repeatedly to the court, and would "say anything to improve the claim he was making".

On Thursday, Justice Davies said that, with interest, the Chainas were entitled to $529,131.

However, he said they should pay $8.3 million towards Scots' legal bills, leaving them $7,770,869 out of pocket.

The $8.3 million is approximately 70 per cent of Scots' total incurred costs since June 2003 when both Mr and Mrs Chaina were offered settlements of $350,000 each.

Justice Davies said it was unreasonable for Mr and Mrs Chaina to have rejected the settlements offered and said their conduct had unncessarily contributed to the costs of the long and complex litigation.

Over the next seven years, the family continued to reject offers of compromise, including a settlement of $10.83 million minus $2.664 million in costs made in April 2010.

Justice Davies said there was some evidence of a house in Vaucluse and a number of luxury cars owned by the Chainas or their companies, Proton Technology and Deluxe Techonology, but "there is a strong liklihood that the plaintiffs will not be able to satisfy any costs judgment against them".

The Chainas' enormous claim was based on the tens of millions of dollars they say they would have made in potential profits if not for the devastating psychological impact of their son's death.

However, Justice Davies found the mental harm suffered by Mr and Mrs Chaina had largely dissipated by 2011.

"Certainly, both of them were not prevented from working in their business after that time by reason of mental harm," the judge found.

"Any inability of Proton to engage in a relaunch of its industrial products was not caused by the defendants' negligence."

The judge said Mr Chaina was not a "witness of truth", finding that he had obfuscated and had given inconsistent answers during his evidence.

"He had a fixed and almost delusional view about himself, his own abilities and expertise and about the success and reputation of his companies, in the face of strong evidence to the contrary," Justice Davies said.

"I generally found Mr Chaina to be dishonest. He said whatever he believed would help him to win this case and obtain very substantial damages. This was at least partly motivated by his desire for vengeance."

In his first statement to the court, in September 2005, Mr Chaina said he had a bachelor of science degree from UNSW and had completed a business and marketing course.

It later emerged these were lies he had perpetrated for 40 years, along with false claims he had been cherry-picked to work for Procter and Gamble in New York.


SMHThere is also evidence a number of firms of solicitors have not been paid.