Black Saturday bushfires: Compensation for Horsham victims still pending amid questions over legal costs

Black Saturday bushfires: Compensation for Horsham victims still pending amid questions over legal costs

14 April 2016

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Australia– Lawyers for 225 members of a class action against Powercor, over the Black Saturday bushfires around Horsham, say a final compensation payout could be achieved within months.

Nearly five years after Powercor agreed to pay 55 per cent of the value of each of the plaintiffs’ claims, the matter is still before the courts.

The senior partner for Maddens Lawyers, Brendan Pendergast, said it had been a protracted process and the main outstanding issue was the question of legal costs.

“It’s disappointing,” Mr Pendergast said.

“The question of costs can become an area of disputation which ultimately has to be ruled upon by the courts.”

In a bid to expedite the final settlement, Mr Pendergast has sought an application in the Supreme Court that is due to be heard in June.

“We’re endeavouring to accelerate the process by seeking to have the court appoint someone independently, to provide an opinion to the court as to the proper measure of costs,” he said.

Some of those involved in the action expressed concern that much of the final payment would be eaten up by legal costs but Mr Pendergast said that was a reality of litigation.

“There’s always a proportion of the compensation recovered which is taken up by unrecoverable costs,” he said.

“That’s our civil law and simply a fact of life.

“There is no victim of the Horsham bushfire who has had to pay anything out of his or her pocket.”

Mr Pendergast also said most of those whose claims had been resolved had received an interim distribution of compensation.

One of the other reasons a final settlement for those involved in the class action has been delayed is the time it has taken to independently assess each of the 225 claims for damages.

“We’re nearing the end of it,” Mr Pendergast said.

“We now have less than 20 claims to conclude.”

Resolving those outstanding claims, along with a successful outcome in the Supreme Court in June, Mr Pendergast said litigants could be paid in full within months.

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