Class-action lawyers welcome Black Saturday lawsuit
The legal firm representing almost 1500 litigants in a bushfire class action against the electricity company responsible for the felled powerline which started the Kinglake East-Kinglake Black Saturday blaze, has welcomed legal action by the State Government for compensation.
The fire — the deadliest in the state on Black Saturday, and which claimed more lives than any other bushfire in Australia’s history — killed 119 people, destroyed 1242 homes and burned a total of 125,383 hectares.
The Government yesterday lodged a writ in the Victorian Supreme Court seeking more than $22 million in compensation from electricity company SPI Electricity, trading as SP AusNet, and its contractor, Utility Services Corporation Limited, claiming they breached their duty of care by failing to maintain the power line which it claims caused the fatal blaze on February 7, 2009.
The writ states the compensation is for loss and damages relating to schools, parks and roads destroying or damaged in the blaze.
Rory Walsh, Senior Associate at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, said today: "We are pleased that the State of Victoria, having completed its pre-trial investigations, agrees with the plaintiff that the blame for the Kilmore East-Kinglake Black Saturday Bushfire, rests with SP Ausnet".
"We are surprised that it has taken the state so long to come to this position, given they have been a party to the class action proceeding for over 19 months and participated in the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, which found that the Kilmore East-Kinglake Black Saturday Bushfire was caused by a conductor failure, in the electrical distribution network owned and maintained by SP Ausnet," he said.
The Government’s move is expected to have little impact on the class action.
"We do not see why the state now seeking to recover its losses, should impact upon the trial of the class action which has been on foot for more than three years and which is fixed for hearing on 29 January 2013," Mr Walsh said.
"The trial of the class action is likely to run in excess of four months.
"We see no reason why the state’s claim would need to be heard with or at the same time as that of the class action, which is being brought on behalf of all of those who suffered loss as a result of the Kilmore East-Kinglake Bushfire. The losses incurred by the state should be treated no differently from any other group member and the state should wait its turn along with every other claimant to recover their losses pending determination of SP Ausnet’s liability in the trial fixed for 29 January 2013," he said.
Maurice Blackburn is acting for 1497 people who suffered injuries and losses in the blaze.
The total losses sustained by group members in the bushfire was estimated at the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission hearings as as high as $1 billion.