Equine influenza class action
FAQs - your questions answered
Equine influenza is a virus which causes acute respiratory disease in horses. It is highly infectious. It is thought that the disease has a nearly 100% infection rate in an unvaccinated horse population with no prior exposure to the virus, such as Australia before the 2007 outbreak.
The virus can be spread by coughing or if the virus is present on surfaces. It can be readily inactivated by a variety of disinfectants and chemicals.
The outbreak of equine influenza and quarantine measures
On 8 August 2007, horses arrived from Japan at Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne. Four of these horses were then flown to Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney, where the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), an arm of the Commonwealth Government, ordered them into quarantine at the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station. At the time the four horses arrived in Sydney, at least one of those horses was infected with equine influenza. While in quarantine that horse or horses became infectious.
Sometime between 10 and 17 August 2007, equine influenza escaped from the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station. By 29 October 2007, there were more than 7,000 infected premises in NSW and Queensland.
The class action is being brought against the Commonwealth in negligence. As the occupier of the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station, the Commonwealth had a duty to prevent the escape of dangerous substances and control dangerous activities.
The findings of theCallinan Inquiry into the 2007 Equine Influenza outbreak lend support to one part of a potential class action - that the Commonwealth breached its duty to:
- take reasonable care to control a dangerous substance (the equine influenza virus) on the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station, and
- to control dangerous activities carried out at the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station.
Ian Callinan AC, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia conducted a Commission of Inquiry in relation to the conduct of the Commonwealth in the outbreak and spread of equine influenza. A report was issued on 23 April 2008 with the Inquiry's findings. Those findings, and other documents related to the Inquiry can be found at: http://www.daff.gov.au/about/publications/eiinquiry
The Inquiry found that the virus most likely escaped from the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station on the person or equipment of a person who had contact with an infected horse.
The Inquiry also found significant systemic failures of the quarantine system. It concluded that AQIS failed to implement quarantine and biosecurity measures which would have prevented the disease entering Australia; a failure which resulted in horse-related industries sustaining lost jobs and revenue.
The class action has been filed in the Federal Court of Australia on behalf of group members who entered into a funding agreement with a third party litigation funder. It is seeking damages for property damage and economic loss. The amount of damages will vary from person to person depending upon their individual circumstances. The class action is funded by a third party litigation funder who bears the legal fees involved, running on a no win, no fee basis for group members.