Australia–– A class action will be launched in the Supreme Court today on behalf of victims of the Murrindindi bushfire on Black Saturday in 2009.
Forty people were killed in the fire, which destroyed 538 houses in the town of Marysville, 90 kilometres north-east of Melbourne.
The action will be taken against power company SP Ausnet, whose powerlines have been found by police to have been the likely cause of the blaze.
SP Ausnet denies that its powerlines were to blame.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Andrew Watson says after his firm was given access to the coroners brief on the fire, they believe there is sufficient evidence to launch the action.
“We think there’s a strong case for the victims of the fire to obtain compensation and some sense of justice in relation to the hurt and injury they’ve suffered as a result of the fire,” he said.
The police report has been handed to Victoria’s Coroner, who is yet to make a finding on the cause of the fire.
In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange yesterday, SP AusNet says it does not accept its assets were involved and goes on to say if it is found liable for losses in respect of the Murrindindi fires, it is not know whether its insurance will be sufficient to cover all losses associated with the fires.
But Mr Watson believes it will be enough.
“Insurance will be a very substantial contributor to any outcome of this case. SP Ausnet have insurance. We anticipate that insurance will cover the bulk of the losses,” he said.
“I anticipate that the claim will be hard-fought but we’re convinced there is a strong case for compensation.”
David Barton lost a dozen friends in the fire and he says SP Ausnet cannot run away from its responsibilities if it is found to be liable for the fires.
“SP Ausnet is a international multi-billion dollar company, so I don’t accept the fact that they’re crying poor over this at all,” he told AM.
“I would imagine there may be some kind of class action or something launched against them and that would be well and good and appropriate.
“But I don’t think that SP Ausnet can run away from their responsibility with this.”
Marysville GP, Dr Lachlan Fraser says the class action may help locals get some justice in terms of the cause of the fire, which was not examined at the Bushfires Royal Commission.
“Hopefully there will be some changes instituted to see what caused it and prevent such catastrophes in future,” he said.
“Unfortunately if you don’t have such civil actions and the threat of money, sometimes these changes won’t get made.”
Dr Fraser says compensation is not a magic wand. He says many people have moved on but the legacy of the fires will be there for many years in the future.
“We’ve got about 150 homes out of 450 or 500 in Marysville that have been rebuilt,” he said.
“It’s looking really good but it’s still a long way to go to get back to what it was.”