The marathon 2003 bushfire litigation is over for the ACT government, but some victims say legal fees gouged away all but a few thousand dollars of their final payout.
Despite lingering frustration over the result, some victims said yesterday that above all else they were just glad the protracted legal proceedings, for them, had come to an end.
The ACT government's role in the biggest single piece of litigation in its history came to an end yesterday with a settlement reached between the class action plaintiffs of law firm Stacks and the territory.
But the fight goes on for Brindabella landowner Wayne West, 19 clients of insurance giant QBE and the state of NSW.
Lawyers for the parties yesterday told Chief Justice Terence Higgins the Stacks clients and the ACT agreed to settle, with judgment entered for the territory and NSW.
At the outset Stacks represented about 100 mostly uninsured Canberra homeowners whose properties were destroyed or damaged in the firestorm.
QBE dropped its own claims against the ACT in April 2010.
The legal odyssey's final chapter is yet to be written, with the judge reserving his decision last November after hearing more than 80 days of evidence and submissions.
The withdrawal of Stacks' clients will have no bearing on the remaining litigants, with the claims against NSW based on different legal grounds.
''It's a massive relief it's over and done with,'' one Stacks plaintiff said yesterday. Asked if the payout was satisfactory, the plaintiff said: ''Yes and no but I'm just glad it's over and done with and I can finally move on with my life. It's been such a huge thing hanging over our lives. It's nice not to have to think about it.''
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell yesterday said the cost of litigation and settlement would be borne by the territory's insurers, not taxpayers. The settlement came just four months before the 10th anniversary of the January 2003 bushfires in which four people died, scores of others were injured and almost 500 homes were destroyed.
Stacks clients were sworn to secrecy regarding the details of the settlements, but some spoke to The Canberra Times yesterday.
The firm's Goulburn branch, which handled the case, did not return calls by deadline.
While it was a class action, payments were made to individuals based on their assessment against a range of factors.
One plaintiff said he would receive a few thousand dollars after about 80 per cent of his payout went to Stacks. He maintained, in his case, the court case was never about money, although some people involved in the proceedings had houses and contents that were under-insured or had suffered catastrophic injuries that required ongoing medical treatment.
''My motivation was to actually get the government to see there'd been a failure in terms of responsibility and the only way governments wake up to that is, 'If you don't do this, it's going to cost you','' he said. ''The motivation wasn't money.''
Another plaintiff said the payout was ''pitiful''. She maintained the government would have been better off settling soon after the fire rather than challenging in the courts and racking up legal fees.
Another said there was no need for the case to be so prolonged, which was ''a reflection on the process the ACT government followed'' and the ''bottomless pit of money it had available to defend itself''.