BA LLB(Hons) AAMINZ • Christchurch
Helen is a dispute resolution and litigation expert, specialising in insurance, resolving commercial disputes and appearing for clients in inquiries and inquests. She leads Simpson Grierson’s insurance practice and is a trained mediator. She also conducts independent investigations.
Helen is regularly appointed by insurers to act as defence counsel. Her focus is professional indemnity, public and product liability, statutory liability and general liability. She also helps professionals respond to complaints to their industry bodies.
With expertise in the liability, property, fire and general and health insurance sectors, she is also often asked by local and international insurers to provide indemnity advice or by insureds wanting advice on cover. She also advises on policy development, regulatory considerations and policy wordings.
Helen also acts on major commercial cases, helping clients resolve disputes or, where that is not possible, appearing in Court or arbitrations. With more than 25 years’ litigation experience, she has dealt with a range of commercial claims including injunctions, construction claims and adjudications, company, shareholder and director claims, contractual, property and leasing disputes, and trust litigation.
She also acts in inquiries and inquests, including high profile Coronial inquiries and inquests and Royal Commissions of Inquiry. She is also often appointed to conduct independent investigations.
Helen is a trained negotiator and mediator, with extensive experience in alternative dispute resolution. She trained with and is an Associate member of the Arbitrators' and Mediators' Institute of New Zealand Inc. She also trained as a mediator with the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University in California.
Helen is skilled in problem solving, strategy development and implementation and guiding others through complex issues to a resolution. She takes a practical and pragmatic approach that recognises that there are different ways to achieve a commercial outcome.
Helen was named Chambers Asia-Pacific Insurance 2022 - Recommended Lawyer, where clients said:
"Helen Smith is a longstanding expert of insurance litigation and is particularly good in the construction law space. Helen is tough and gets good results by sticking to her guns."
"I have complete confidence in her knowledge and skills. She knows what is needed to resolve claims as pragmatically and economically as possible. Helen is just the perfect package of empathy and professionalism. She is great at representing her clients and putting their best interests at the forefront."
Clients’ value her as a provider of considered, straightforward advice "with a flair for cutting through the complicated, getting into the key issues and laying things out in an understandable manner".
Helen is an Associate Member of the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand Inc.
She is a member of the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance (ANZIIF), the New Zealand Insurance Law Association and the Society of Construction Law.
Asia Pacific Legal 500 2023
Chambers Asia-Pacific 2023
Professional liability claims
Acting for professionals facing claims or disciplinary complaints including accountants, architects, auditors, brokers, directors, engineers, health professionals, lawyers, project managers, real estate agents, and valuers. A particular expertise in claims involving construction professionals and complex and sensitive claims.
Acting for insureds defending statutory liability claims, particularly in the health and safety and resource management context.
Acting for insureds on public liability claims, including claims against contractors in particular.
Appointed by insurers to act on product liability claims for insureds across the supply chain. Expertise across a range of sectors, with close liaison with insureds, loss adjusters, and experts required.
Providing advice on cover to insurers and insureds across the industry including liability, health, home, contents, vehicle, farm, travel and life insurance policies.
Acting for a local authority facing a multi-million dollar claim about its role in the design and construction of a high rise building in the central city.
Successfully defending an application for an interim injunction seeking to restrain our client from giving effect to a decision not to renew a commercial contract: Multimedia Communications Ltd v Enable Services Ltd  NZHC 568.
Advising an international client on alleged breaches of a broker agreement relating to the placement of cover.
Acting for a commercial client in a multi-million dollar arbitration involving alleged breaches of contract, tort and the Fair Trading Act 1986.
Acting for large corporate clients seeking advice on potential recalls and product liability claims, including those for clients with global operations, providing sensitive and strategic advice and working with technical experts in Europe and the US.
Royal Commissions of Inquiry
Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, 2022: Acting for faith-based organisations including advising on information to be provided, briefing witnesses and appearing at hearings.
Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission of Inquiry, 2011-2012: Acting for engineers, project managers and property owners relating to the Hotel Grand Chancellor, and other buildings which caused loss of life including the CTV building.
Coronial Inquiries and Inquests
Fire and Emergency New Zealand: Acting in the Coronial Inquiry into the 15 March 2019 Masjidain attacks, 2021-current.
New Zealand Fire Service (as it then was): Acting in the Coronial Inquiry and Inquest into the deaths of eight people who survived the initial collapse of the CTV building but later died, 2012-2013.