'Black Saturday' survivors win Aus$494.7m

2014-07-15 17:47


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Sydney - Survivors of a devastating 2009 bushfire in Australia won a nearly Aus$494.7m payout on Tuesday in 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 southern Victoria state that left 173 dead and razed more than 2 000 homes, the nation's worst natural disaster of modern times.

More than 10 000 people joined the action against SP AusNet, which is majority owned by Singapore Power, over the Kilmore inferno, which killed 119 people and caused an estimated Aus$1bn in damage.

They won a settlement of Aus$494.7m.

"No amount of money will ever compensate those who were affected by the fire for the losses that they suffered," said the head of Maurice Blackburn lawyers' class actions department Andrew Watson.

"But this settlement of nearly half a billion dollars represents a measure of justice and some real compensation to help ease the financial burden of their suffering."

Lead plaintiff Carol Matthews, whose son Sam, 22, burned to death, claimed the power company's faulty equipment ignited the blaze with lawyers arguing the resulting fire, which destroyed 125 000ha, was "entirely preventable".

"Nothing will take away the pain of losing my son and today's settlement won't change what has happened," she told a press conference.

"But today there is an element of relief and a sense of comfort that this settlement will ease the financial struggles that so many people are still facing on a day to day basis."

'Avoidable failings'

She said the 200-day trial "exposed many of the failings that occurred on that day, failings that were very avoidable" and hit out at SP AusNet.

"I find it unthinkable that the primary concern of SP AusNet was not for the survivors and the 119 lives that were lost, but purely to try and reduce their liability regarding a fire that was completely preventable."

SP AusNet said in a statement the settlement was reached without admission of liability by the company or any other party.

The group had also sued Utility Services Corporation Limited, which was contracted by SP AusNet to maintain the line, and the Department of Sustainability and Environment for allegedly failing to reduce fuel loads.

SP AusNet said it sought to conduct its defence in a manner to avoid adding to the pain of those affected, while demonstrating that its network was competently and efficiently managed.

"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 that time," it said.

"This point was accepted by experts called by all parties who provided evidence in relation to the conductor break.

"It is a tragedy that the conductor eventually failed on one of the worst days imaginable," it added.

Maurice Blackburn said the payout was more than double the previous highest Australian class action settlement of Aus$200m.

"It's a significant and substantial amount," said Watson. "The volume of claims in this matter was unprecedented."

Among the claims were 1 700 for personal injury, nearly 4 000 for uninsured and underinsured property loss and about 5 000 other insurance claims.

Wildfires are a fact of life in Australia but a royal commission into the "Black Saturday" infernos said they were of unparalleled ferocity, whipped up by hot and dry conditions.

Its four-volume report detailed a disaster plagued by "systemic failings" and chaos and made a raft of recommendations, including an urgent upgrade of ageing electricity infrastructure in fire-prone areas.

* 1 Aus Dollar = US $0.94

Read more on:    australia

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.