Court approves $300m Black Saturday settlement

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The last Black Saturday bushfire class action has finally drawn to a close, with the Supreme Court of Victoria yesterday approving a $300m settlement for victims.

The Marysville-Murrindindi class action was led by Maurice Blackburn against electricity company AusNet. A break in an electrical conductor on a power pole was responsible for starting the fire on 7 February 2009.

Maurice Blackburn has assessed the recovery rate for both as 70 per cent of the assessed claims of personal injury claimants and 60 per cent of the assessed claims of property claimants,” said Justice Emerton.  “Having regard to these estimated recovery rates; I consider that the settlement would be reasonable, even if the liability risks were negligible.”

The $300m figure was agreed to back in February by AusNet, the Victorian Government and maintenance contractor Utility Asset Management. AusNet will pay more than $260.9m, maintenance company Utility Service Providers will pay $10m and the Victorian Government will contribute $29m to the settlement.

“We know that a victory even of this magnitude can never erase the pain that people suffered on and after that devastating day, but we are proud to have helped our clients achieve this very significant compensation,” said class actions principle at Maurice Blackburn, Brooke Dellavedova.

Lead plaintiff in the class action, Dr Katherine Rowe, who lost her husband in the fire, said that although the settlement will not make up for the lives lost, the compensation will give the community a sense of justice and closure following the long awaited outcome.

“I truly hope that the compensation we have been able to secure today will help all those people still trying to rebuild, and that it lessens the ongoing burden somewhat for people, although it can never fully account for what we’ve gone through and lost,” Rowe said.

“Furthermore, I know that people wanted some sense of justice and accountability for what occurred on that day, and I am confident that a settlement of this size achieves that, and I hope it forces businesses into better practices so these disasters are averted in future.”

Maurice Blackburn also acted on the Kilmore East-Kinglake Black Saturday bushfire class action, which secured $494m for victims.
 
 

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