Survivors of Victoria’s devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires have secured a $500 million payout, in what lawyers have called the biggest class action settlement in Australian legal history.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers said victims of the Kilmore East-Kinglake bushfire, which started on 7 February, had got “some justice today”.
It is a tragedy that the conductor eventually failed on one of the worst days imaginable.
The action against power distributor SP AusNet and asset managers Utility Services Group involved 10,000 people, including relatives of the 119 people killed in the fire, people injured and those who lost their homes and property.
The blaze razed 125,000 hectares and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.
The case came about after the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission found the Kilmore East-Kinglake bushfire was allegedly caused by an ageing SP AusNet power line.
In a statement, SP AusNet said the settlement was without admission of liability by the company and other parties.
It said it believed it was likely to win the lawsuit, but the uncertainty, complexity and scale of the case lead them and other parties to settle.
“SP AusNet extends its deepest sympathy to those who suffered losses in the Black Saturday bushfires,” the statement said.
“SP AusNet’s position has been, and continues to be, that the conductor which broke and which initiated the fire was damaged by lightning, compromising its fail-safety design in a manner which was undetectable at the time.
“It is a tragedy that the conductor eventually failed on one of the worst days imaginable.
“SP AusNet’s management of its network did not involve any negligence.”
Uncertainty, complexity and scale of case lead to settlement
Those seeking compensation have received more than double the previous highest Australian class action settlement of $200 million.
SP AusNet has agreed to pay $378.6 million, while Utility Services Corporation Ltd will pay $12.5 million.
State parties, which included Victoria Police, the CFA and the Department of Sustainability and Environment, have agreed to pay $103.6 million.
The Black Saturday bushfires were the worst in Victoria’s history, with a total of 173 people killed in a series of bushfires that burnt across the state.
The class action took place in the Melbourne Supreme Court and ran for more than 200 sitting days in a specially-designed courtroom.
SP AusNet also said it remained a party in the Murrindindi fire class action and would “vigorously defend that claim”.
– with ABC and AAP