Australian bushfire survivors win record $500m

2014-12-23 08:45

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Survivors of a devastating 2009 bushfire in Australia have won final court approval for a payout close to Aus$500m - the biggest class action settlement in the nation's history.

Sydney - Survivors of a devastating 2009 bushfire in Australia won final court approval on Tuesday for a payout close to Aus$500m - the biggest class action settlement in the nation's history.

The Kilmore East blaze was the largest of the "Black Saturday" February 2009 fires in the state of Victoria that left 173 dead and razed more than 2 000 homes, the nation's worst natural disaster of modern times.

Thousands of people joined an action blaming power company SP AusNet, which until January was majority-owned by Singapore Power, over the Kilmore inferno, which killed 119 people and caused an estimated $1bn in damage.

Parties including SP AusNet agreed to a settlement of $494.7m earlier this year, with the power company making the biggest payout, but the agreement needed court approval, which was given on Tuesday.

The other parties were Utility Services Corporation Limited, which was contracted by SP AusNet to maintain the power line, and the Victoria state government's department of sustainability and environment for allegedly failing to reduce fuel loads.

Plaintiffs claimed SP AusNet's faulty equipment ignited the blaze. The company has previously said the settlement was reached without admission of liability.

Lead plaintiff Carol Matthews, whose son Sam, aged 22, burned to death, said the judgement provided a huge relief for her and other survivors of the fire.

"It is a huge relief to know that the court has approved a settlement and that people will finally receive some compensation and justice for what we've all been through," she said.

"Nothing will ever replace what we have lost, but today we have been vindicated for standing up for our rights.

"Hopefully we've played an important role in ensuring large organisations adhere to higher standards in the interests of community safety," she added.

Class action lawyers Maurice Blackburn said the Supreme Court ruling rubber-stamped the sum of money and how it should be distributed.

Maurice Blackburn senior associate Rory Walsh said a settlement on such a scale had never been attempted before in Australia.

Read more on:    australia  |  environment
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