Last Black Saturday bushfire class action settles on steps of Court

6 February 2015
On the eve of the six-year anniversary since the Black Saturday bushfires devastated communities in rural Victoria, an 11th-hour deal between Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and the defendants has resolved the Murrindindi-Marysville class action before trial for $300 million.

It brings the total of compensation Maurice Blackburn has secured for bushfire survivors to almost $800 million.

The primary case rested 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.

Maurice Blackburn class actions Principal Brooke Dellavedova said that the resolution has saved participants in the class action from having to endure an unnecessary ordeal through a trial that was scheduled to run for another year.

“We’re well aware that a victory even of this magnitude will never erase the pain of what people suffered on that devastating day, but we are proud to have helped our clients achieve some measure of justice and compensation in respect of this tragedy,” Ms Dellavedova said.

“We were successful in the long-running Kilmore East–Kinglake case, and we believed the Murrindindi case was even stronger, so to resolve it sooner rather than after a lengthy and costly trial is a great outcome for the group members involved."

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 ensure some level of accountability for what was alleged to have occurred back in 2009.

“Personally, this fire changed my life as I knew it, and it will never, ever be the same. I know that many others have had even greater trauma to deal with and we are all still trying to deal with each passing day and week,” Dr Rowe said.

“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.

“Furthermore, I know that people wanted some 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 that it is only because we have an effective class actions regime that people can join together to take on large organisations and pursue their rights through actions such as this.

Maurice Blackburn’s class action team has now recovered 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.