Former NRMA chairman Nick Whitlam is on a roll, legally speaking. After extracting a $100,000 defamation settlement out of former NRMA consultant Rob Dempsey, Whitlam has cleaned up the biggest insurer in the country when Justice Clifford Einstein declared last month that it had acted “unconscionably” for nearly four years in delaying his retirement payout.
Gough’s boy was asked to resign shortly after Channel Nine’s John Lyons produced a devastating feature on Whitlam and IAG/NRMA on the Sunday program in March 2001. The hard men of the NRMA board asked him to quit, which he did on April 9, 2001 after being promised the full whack of retirement benefits. They even passed a resolution describing his conduct as IAG chairman as “impeccable”.
The board then blinked when 100 shareholders asked a meeting to block any payout without explicit shareholder approval. The payout was deferred and Whitlam finally received $313,000 in September 2003. Whitlam sued over the delay, claiming he was entitled to more under his contract. Justice Einstein agreed and on March 11 he was awarded an additional $350,000 plus costs. IAG’s costs plus Whitlam’s, all of which IAG must now pay, may approach $1 million.
So, what next for Nick Whitlam? Crikey hears there is just one major legal matter outstanding: the case he has brought against the NRMA, where he is seeking a declaration that his NRMA Deed of Indemnity requires the company to fund a defamation case against Channel Nine and John Lyons, now the executive producer of Sunday.
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No less than four QCs have apparently been interviewed for the job of representing Whitlam, and each has observed his case is very strong. But the winner is Stuart Littlemore QC. The former Media Watch rottweiler worked for the Packers at Nine in the 1970s, so it will be interesting to see him cross-examining Lyons and his alleged informants if the case ever gets to court.