Parties agree to Black Saturday compensation

Parties agree to Black Saturday compensation

31 March 2012

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Australia — PARTIES have agreed to class action terms of settlement for victims of the Coleraine bushfire on Black Saturday.

Approved by the Victorian Supreme Court at Hamilton on Thursday, electricity distributor Powercor Australia Limited will pay out several million dollars to between 20 and 25 Coleraine applicants. The amount would depend on expert assessments for loss of income, property and livestock after a live conductor wire broke from a pole and ignited nearby tree branches, triggering wildfires on February 7, 2009.

While Powercor has not accepted responsibility for the damage caused, the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission determined the Coleraine Black Saturday bushfire was caused by faulty Powercor infrastructure.

On Thursday, Justice David Beach of the Victorian Supreme Court ordered the settlement agreement which provides for a payment of 55 per cent of each claimant’s losses, together with penalty interest from the date of issue of the proceeding (more than 10 per cent annually), plus legal costs, to be fair and equitable.

Justice Beach congratulated both parties, Powercor and lead plaintiffs Tracey Perry and Terry Sagar, describing the settlement as an “imminently sensible compromise of this proceeding”.

Maddens Lawyers principal Brendan Pendergast said Coleraine Bushfire victims had until June 29 to complete a group member registration form and be entitled to rely on the settlement terms to recover their bushfire loss and damage. “The settlement reached this week was a good result for the lead plaintiffs and 20 to 25 people who were affected by the 2009 bushfire,” Mr Pendergast said.

“There are risks with litigation and this settlement reflects those risks.”

Mr Pendergast has told The Standard a similar trial for the Pomborneit bushfires had been fixed for September.

The Southern Grampians Shire is still taking advice on whether it will seek to compensation for its ratepayers’ bushfire loss and damage, including a destroyed World War One Avenue of Honour.

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