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Written by Peter Carter

August 28, 2014

A suspect has successfully sued police for the value of personal items confiscated by them and later inadvertently destroyed.
New South Wales police conceded that the items were unrelated to any alleged offence and ought not to have been trashed. They admitted they were liable to compensate Jianwei Liu for the value of his loss of property. There was no contest as to the value of his Cartier watch, his Louis Vuitton belt, his shoes or the Mercedes-Benz car keys totaled $15,115.

But Liu also had an heirloom necklace pendant that contained an ancient jade carving in the shape of a mythical beast that is traditionally believed to carry good luck and ward off evil. Expert valuers had difficulty in assessing the value of the unique heirloom because it couldn’t be produced for examination and only indistinct photographs could be produced.

Police however recruited jeweller Warren Joel, a third-generation member of Melbourne’s renowned art auction house, Leonard Joel. Joel’s opinion – such as it was, based only on poor photographic evidence – was that the piece was unlikely the authentic antique that Liu claimed worth $1.5 million, but rather a 20th-century copy that resembled “a piece of cheap tourist Jade”.

In his view, it was worth “no more than $5000, $10,000 at the most”.

Liu could not offer any evidence of value but urged the court, to deny the defendant an evidentiary benefit from the piece not being able to be expertly examined, because the police were themselves the author of the evidentiary misfortune.

The Supreme Court would, he argued, be justified in assuming a far higher figure rather than being bound by a potentially unreliable opinion the heirloom was only of tourist quality. Not persuaded, the court decided that the value it must attribute was the upper end of Mr Joel’s range, just $10,000.

Because, however, Liu had an obvious personal attachment to the heirloom and had worn it continuously since age 20, he should also be awarded further damages to represent its sentimental value. A further $2.5k was added to the total, to bring total damages inclusive of interest to $34k. The state of NSW had made an all up pre-trial offer to pay $40k. Because that offer exceeded the ultimate award of damages, Liu was ordered to pay the legal costs of the state for the two-day trial.

Jianwei Liu v State of New South Wales [2014] NSWSC 933 Nicholas AJ, 16 July 2014 – view decision

Categories: Litigation & Law Practice , Civil procedure

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