Victims launch $150 million legal class action against SA Power Networks over Cudlee Creek bushfire in Adelaide Hills

10 March 2021

Published by https://www.abc.net.au/

AUSTRALIA – A class action lawsuit seeking $150 million for victims of the 2019 Cudlee Creek bushfire in the Adelaide Hills has been lodged with the South Australian Supreme Court.

Key points:

  • The Cudlee Creek bushfire swept through the Adelaide Hills in December 2019
  • It was caused by a tree falling on power lines
  • A law firm is suing SA Power Networks for damages

Maddens Lawyers is seeking compensation for up to 1,000 victims of the blaze, which destroyed more than 90 homes and killed one person in December 2019.

It claims SA Power Networks’ inadequate fault protection settings led to the bushfire, which started when a tree fell on power lines and then a fence.

Brendan Pendergast the Victorian law firm Maddens Lawyers said South Australia’s energy distributor knew it was a catastrophic fire danger day, with a total fire ban in place.

“And yet we see in the Office of the Technical Regulator’s report that the fault mechanisms were adjusted to normal settings and quite alarmingly the auto-reclose device operated twice so it de-energised the line and then re-energised it after the tree fell on the line and brought it down to the ground,” he said.

In its report on the fire released in August, the Office of the Technical Regulator said it “could not identify any indicators that could have enabled a reasonable person to identify this tree failure prior to the event”.

Mr Pendergast said he would present experts who said the tree was already “severely compromised” three years before the fire and should have been identified as “dead, dying or dangerous”.

Range of losses from bushfire

He said losses went beyond the destroyed homes and 1,000 hectares in damaged vineyards.

“So we’re seeking to recover compensation for those aspects of the fire as well.”

An SA Power Networks spokesman said the company had not yet seen “the detail of the claim” but would defend its actions.

“An independent government report concluded the fire start was due to a tree falling from outside the vegetation clearance zone surrounding power lines, and that SAPN had acted in accord with its bushfire and vegetation management procedures and equipment settings,” he said.

SA Power Networks is controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing.

Maddens Lawyers is also representing victims of the November 2019 Yorketown bushfire, which was caused by a power network fault.

That case is heading to court-ordered mediation next month.

“We’re optimistic that proper resolution can be achieved at that time rather than taking the matter before the court for a determination,” Mr Pendergast said.

Mr Pendergast’s firm has been involved in a number of lawsuits relating to bushfires, starting with the Ash Wednesday fire that struck the Adelaide Hills and parts of Victoria in 1983.

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