Second lawsuit filed after bushfires

Second lawsuit filed after bushfires

25 March 2013

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Australia —  The WA Government is staring down the barrel of at least two major lawsuits in the wake of the 2011 Margaret River bushfires.

A writ was filed on behalf of 41 claimants last week naming the WA Government and its Department of Environment and Conservation as defendants.

It also revealed clients signed onto the suit were claiming damages for “nuisance” and “negligence” from damage to their property as a result of the November 2011 blaze.

The Times understands the lawsuit was issued by Greenland Legal, who conducted their own post-fire inquiry following the Keelty and Noetic Solutions reports in 2012 on behalf of Wesfarmers Insurance.

Slater and Gordon’s Ben Hardwick said its class action suit maintained about 60 people and was also ready to go if its clients’ demands for fair compensation from the WA Government’s insurer RiskCover were not met.

“We are continuing our discussions with clients and RiskCover regarding the operation of the claims assessment scheme,” Mr Hardwick said.

“It’s always worthwhile exhausting opportunities to achieve a negotiated outcome prior to issuing a case.”

Department of Premier and Cabinet media co-ordinator Rachel Donkin denied claims the Government had offered low compensation packages to bushfire victims, which brought on last week’s writ.

“RiskCover has not broken the Government’s undertaking, as announced by the Premier, that reasonable claims would be accepted,” Ms Donkin said.

“All claims are being assessed based on what RiskCover considers to be a fair and reasonable legal entitlement in accordance with principles and precedent established at common law. Ms Donkin said bushfire victims were entitled to issue legal proceedings if they saw fit, but hoped any action would be deferred until a settlement outcome was “fully explored”.

Gareth Stewart, who lost his Orchid Ramble home to the bushfire, said he was still signed up for the Slater and Gordon class action.

Although yet to lodge a claim for his losses, Mr Stewart said fellow victims had expressed concerns about their payouts from RiskCover.

“Some people have been pretty (annoyed) about what they’ve been offered by the Government,” he said.

“We haven’t put in a claim yet, but if we get fairly compensated we will pull out of the class action. If not we will proceed.”

Wesfarmers Insurance corporate communications manager Sean Walsh said he wasn’t prepared to make comment on the lawsuit as the matter was before the courts.

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