A class action seeking an estimated $150 million in damages has been launched on behalf of hundreds of victims of the bushfire that raged through the Adelaide Hills in December 2019.
Filed in the SA Supreme Court by Maddens Lawyers, it will argue that power company SA Power Networks should have done more to ensure its protection devices responded immediately to any faults on its network.
The 23,000-hectare blaze, which destroyed 98 homes and damaged hundreds of other buildings and vehicles, also claimed one life with the body of a man found in his burnt-out home in the small town of Charleston.
Known as the Cudlee Creek fire, it was sparked when a large pine tree fell on high voltage conductors.
One of the live conductors then came into contact with a wire fence and the ground, igniting the blaze on what was a day of catastrophic fire danger and total fire bans.
A state government investigation found the tree was beyond the prescribed clearance zone and that its failure could not have been identified before the event.
But Special Counsel Brendan Pendergast said the conditions on December 20 were forecast in advance and weren’t unexpected given the conditions in the days prior.
“More could and should have been done by SA Power Networks to ensure their protection devices responded immediately to any faults on their network,” he said.
“These steps could have easily been implemented and wouldn’t have cost SA Power Networks a cent.”
Lead plaintiff Kris Thrower, who lost his house and most of his possessions, said the fire changed his life and the life of his family forever.
“I worked so hard to establish myself and now I’ve stepped back all the way to zero with absolutely nothing,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
“It still gives me nightmares. I’d like to think that someone is held accountable for the devastation to my life, my family’s life, the environment around us and all the animals that perished.
“Mentally, I’m anxious. I used to be one of the calmest people I know, now every day I’m looking on the horizon for a fire.
“It changes you. My life has been flipped upside down and I personally don’t have any closure on it.”
Mr Pendergast said the class action process was a secure and low-risk way for residents and businesses marred by the fire to recover compensation for the significant loss and damage they suffered.
“There is great strength in a community making a collective stand,” he said.