Justice prevails for Kilmore East-Kinglake Black Saturday survivors

15 July 2014
After the state’s deadliest and most devastating bushfire took 119 lives and destroyed 1242 homes, after a Royal Commission and after Australia’s longest ever class action trial, the survivors of the 2009 Kilmore East-Kinglake Black Saturday bushfire have received a measure of justice today.

In what will be the largest class action settlement in Australian history if the court approves it, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has today secured agreement from the defendants to pay a settlement of nearly half a billion dollars.

Lead plaintiff Carol Matthews, who lost her son Sam and her home in the fire, has agreed to the settlement on behalf of more than 5,000 people she has tirelessly represented throughout the years the action has been on foot.

Maurice Blackburn’s national head of class actions, Principal Andrew Watson, said it was the hardest fought, longest and most difficult case his team had run.

“This case was fought over more than five years against SP AusNet and four other defendants with a 16 month trial. That long fight has led to what will be a record settlement of more than $494 million dollars,” Mr Watson said.

“No amount of money will replace what this fire took from those who had so much taken away from them, but if approved, today’s settlement will provide significant compensation for their losses and some long overdue justice for people who have suffered great adversity.”

Mrs Matthews said that the long trial had taken its toll physically and emotionally, but she felt compelled to continue fighting for what she believed was the right outcome for all the fire affected survivors.

“It has been a tough, gruelling five years since the fire killed our son, left our daughter without her big brother, and destroyed our home. There is so much pain that is still very real, but today there is also a sense of justice,” Mrs Matthews said.

“I know the impact the fire has had on the people and communities affected, and I know how strongly people felt that we were being hung out to dry while those that started the fire got away with it. And while nothing will make up for what we lost, today’s win will be an important step in the right direction for thousands of deserving people.”

At a glance:

  • Saturday 7 February, 2009: The Kilmore East – Kinglake Black Saturday bushfires take 119 lives and destroy 1242 properties
  • Monday 4 March, 2013: The class action trial begins in the Supreme Court of Victoria, in a purpose-built courtroom in the William Cooper Justice Centre
  • Wednesday 18 June, 2014: The trial concludes, with judgment expected early in 2015
  • Tuesday 15 July, 2014: Australia’s largest class action settlement of more than $494 million reached between the parties, subject to court approval.

How the settlement is divided between the defendants:

  • SP AusNet $378,574,121
  • State Parties $103,592,546
  • UAM (maintenance contractor) $12.5m

Australia’s biggest class actions settlements:

  • Kilmore East – Kinglake Black Saturday bushfires: $494 million ($494,666,667)*
  • Centro: $200 million
  • Aristocrat: $144.5 million
  • Amcor/Visy Cartel $125 million
  • NAB CDOs: $115 million
  • GIO: $112 million
    *Subject to court approval