SP AusNet blames victims of the 2009 Black Saturday Kilmore-East Kinglake bushfire trial as closing submissions begin today

6 June 2014
Victoria's longest running class action, the trial against SP AusNet over the 2009 Black Saturday Kilmore-East Kinglake bushfire that claimed 119 lives, is drawing to a conclusion after more than 16 months in court.

The case is the biggest civil court case ever in Victoria. After beginning more than 400 days ago, including 200 days in court, the parties will spend the next two weeks making their closing submissions.

The electricity company at the centre of the allegations of negligence that led to the devastating fire, SP AusNet, has begun its closing submissions today.

Remarkably, SP AusNet is arguing that, even if the Court concludes that the fire was caused by its failure to adequately maintain the powerline that broke and started the fire, it should not be held legally responsible to pay damages to people who were injured in the fire, to families of people killed in the fire and to people whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the fire.

The basis of SP AusNet's argument is that the Court should not find that it has a duty of care to people whose lives were devastated by the fire because that would "impose a burden" on the company that was "out of all proportion to the wrong".

Class Actions Principal at Maurice BlackburnMartin Hyde, said SP AusNet is asking the Court to excuse it from liability, even if it is found to be at fault, on the basis that it would be disproportionate

"This is insulting to those whose lives were torn apart by the fire," Mr Hyde said.

"If SP AusNet is found to have caused the fire by not adequately maintaining its network, then it should front up to its responsibility to the victims and not try to avoid it."

SP AusNet also argued today that it was not an option for it to have used money that was earmarked for distributions for its shareholders and instead spend it on paying for safety measures, because its shareholders had an expectation that they would receive a return on their equity investment.

"The upshot is that SPI argues that maintaining shareholder returns was more important than additional spending on safety," Mr Hyde said.

Closing submissions for the plaintiff will begin next Wednesday, with all closing submissions to conclude by June 18. Judgment in the trial is expected early next year.