Queensland floods class action trial begins in Supreme Court

4 December 2017
Expert evidence that operators of the Wivenhoe and Somerset dams failed to follow their own operating manual during the 2011 floods, will be a central feature in the South East Queensland Floods class action, which goes to trial today in the New South Wales Supreme Court.

Nearly seven years since the devastating events, more than 6000 people and businesses will get their day in court, as today Australia’s leading class action law firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, supported by litigation funder IMF Bentham, begin a multi-part trial to hold the Queensland dam owners and operators to account.

Central to the case will be the dam operation manual that the dam operators and engineers co-authored. It will be said that the dam operators ignored critical aspects of their manual, which led to the errors that caused catastrophic flooding throughout Brisbane and south east Queensland, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses.

The trial will hear that at the peak, the operators released over 7400 cubic metres of water per second. The plaintiff’s case will be that if the dams had been operated properly during the flood event, the peak release rate could have been less than half of that.

The trial is being run in front of Justice Robert Beech-Jones, and the Court will sit for two weeks prior to Christmas, in which time the plaintiff’s case will be outlined. The case will then resume in February next year. The trial is being live-streamed at the following address: www.supremecourt.justice.nsw.gov.au/Pages/sco2_classaction/floods.aspx

Class Action Principal at Maurice Blackburn, Rebecca Gilsenan, said that by failing to adhere to their own operating manual and by ignoring rainfall forecasts, the dam operators were negligent. This led to homes, businesses and livelihoods being destroyed.

“This trial will demonstrate that the dam operators did not operate the dam during the flood event in accordance with the manual that they themselves wrote, and the consequence of that was unnecessary devastation across south east Queensland,” Ms Gilsenan said.

“Astoundingly, they did not take into account weather forecasts in making decisions about how to operate the dams during the flood event, only taking notice of rainfall once it had in fact fallen on the ground. This was too late.”

By only taking notice of rain on the ground, the dam operators effectively assumed that there was 100% chance of no further rainfall.  They did this despite the fact that it was the rainy season, despite the fact that the long range forecasts predicted a wetter than usual wet season and despite the fact that the short range forecasts predicted heavy rain. 

“The dam operators backed themselves into a corner by failing to release water from the dam to create storage space so that when the very heavy rains started on 10 January, they had no choice but to release enormous volumes of water from the dam which inundated rural communities, Brisbane and Ipswich,” Ms Gilsenan said.