Court approves final Black Saturday bushfire class action

27 May 2015
The Supreme Court of Victoria has today approved the $300 million settlement of the last class action for survivors of the Black Saturday bushfires. Approval of the Murrindindi class action will provide certainty for more than 1100 claimants who were affected by the traumatic events of February 2009.

The Court approval today ensures that survivors of the deadly 2009 Black Saturday bushfires that hit Marysville-Murrindindi and Kilmore East-Kinglake in regional Victoria will be able to make claims on the nearly $800 million in compensation secured for them by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.

Class actions Principal at Maurice Blackburn, Brooke Dellavedova, said delivering a meaningful result for the survivors was crucial and had been a driving factor in her team’s determination to help bushfire survivors achieve some sense of justice.

“We know that a victory even of this magnitude can never erase the pain that people suffered on and after that devastating day, but we are proud to have helped our clients achieve this very significant compensation,” Ms Dellavedova said.

The primary case was against electricity provider AusNet Services (formerly SP AusNet) and its allegedly faulty electrical infrastructure, with the other claims against maintenance contractor UAM and the State parties. The settlement is without admission of liability.

Lead plaintiff in the action, Dr Katherine Rowe, said she was proud to have represented the entire group in standing up to AusNet and the other defendants to pursue some level of accountability for what was alleged to have occurred back in 2009.

“I truly hope that the compensation we have been able to secure today will help all those people still trying to rebuild, and that it lessens the ongoing burden somewhat for people, although it can never fully account for what we’ve gone through and lost,” Dr Rowe said.

“Furthermore, I know that people wanted some sense of justice and accountability for what occurred on that day, and I am confident that a settlement of this size achieves that, and I hope it forces businesses into better practices so these disasters are averted in future.”

Ms Dellavedova said it’s only due to an effective class actions regime that people can band together to take on large organisations and pursue their rights.

Maurice Blackburn’s class action team has now secured the eight largest class action resolutions in Australian legal history, and it is the only firm to have recovered in excess of $100 million on a case, having now done that eight times (listed below).

Australia’s biggest class actions settlements

(All these cases were run by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers) 

The plaintiff's case outlined

The plaintiff alleged that a broken conductor started the fire and that

AusNet:

  • was responsible for the flawed design and construction of the powerline (Pole 6)
  • failed to identify and remedy detectable defects that resulted in the failure of the powerline and the ignition of the fire, and
  • re-energised the conductor following an earlier fault without conducting a proper inspection of Pole 6.

UAM (maintenance contractor):

  • failed to report obvious defects in Pole 6.

The State Parties:

  • failed to get the right information at the right time to the people that needed it.

The settlement is without admission of liability.

Key figures: Marysville-Murrindindi fire

Total claimants: >1100 

Settlement amount: $300 million 

Breakdown of contributors:

  • AusNet Services - $260.9m
  • The State Parties $29.1m
  • Maintenance contractor UAM, $10m

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