A 15-year-old boy died on school camp. Now, his family owes the school $8 million.

9 News reporting on the payout.

Rita and George Chaina have endured 15 years of heartbreak.

Their 15-year-old son Nathan died in the most tragic of circumstances, drowning on a school camp in October 1999 as his horrified brother looked on.

Now the Chaina family has been dealt a fresh blow, having been ordered to pay $8 million in legal costs — a sum that eclipses the payout they received in relation to Nathan’s death, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The order is the latest development in a sad and sometimes strange 12-year legal battle, over the course of which the Chaina family rejected several offers of settlement.

The tragic event

Nathan Chaina, a year 10 student at the prestigious Scots College in Sydney, drowned when he fell into a flooded river at Kangaroo Valley. Nathan had been trying to cross the water on a school hiking trip at the school’s Glengarry campus at the time.

His distraught brother Matthew, 14 at the time, had to be restrained from jumping into the river after him.

A 2011 coronial inquest found the school liable for the boy’s death, saying it had ignored weather reports and failed to train the boys to deal with extreme conditions.

The Chainas launched a legal battle with Scots College in 2002, suing the school and the Presbyterian Church — which owns Scots — for damages for nervous shock.

They also initially claimed between $100 million and $300 million in damages relating to the effect of Nathan’s death on their business: As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, the devastated family claimed they’d been prevented from launching a new laundry detergent that could have made millions in profits.

The settlements they rejected

On 16 May, the family and their two businesses were awarded just under $500,000 in compensation, The Guardian reports.

The sum, to be paid by the school’s operator, the Presbyterian Church Property Trust, is a mere fraction of the tens of millions they had sought.

On Thursday Justice Davies said that sum would come to a total of $529,131 including interest — but also ordered the Chaina family to pay legal costs of $8.3 million.


The decision awarded Scots 70 percent of the total costs they incurred over more than 10 years of the legal battle, reports.

The Chainas has previously said they have spent more than $20 million pursuing the case, The Guardian reports, and Justice Davies said there was ‘a strong liklihood that the plaintiffs will not be able to satisfy any costs judgment against them.’

Handing down the decision, Justice Davies also said it was ‘unreasonable’ for the Chainas to have turned down earlier settlement offers.

Mr and Mrs Chaina were offered settlements of $350,000 each in 2003, but rejected that offer as well as a 2010 settlement offer of $10.83 million minus costs, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.


In awarding the Chainas their payout in May, Justice Davies also said he had found Mr Chaina to be ‘dishonest.’

The judge said Mr Chaina had “said whatever he believed would help him to win this case and obtain very substantial damages”.

“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.

The judge said Mr Chaina had given inconsistent answers during his evidence and lied to the court.

“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,” he said.

In his first statement to the court, in September 2005, Mr Chaina made various claims about his credentials — including that he had a science degree from UNSW — about which it later emerged he had lied for 40 years, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Justice Davies also found the mental harm suffered by Mr and Mrs Chaina had largely dissipated by 2011, saying the couple were capable of returning to work in some capacity a few years after the accident, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

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