On Wednesday 17 April 2019 a unanimous decision was reached by three New South Wales (NSW) Court of Appeal judges in favour of Ms Sharon Weber. Ms Weber had appealed the NSW Supreme Court’s May 2018 judgement, which went against victims of the 2009 Walla Walla fire. The Court of Appeal has awarded Ms Weber the full amount of her damages ($104,400) plus interest.
The Court has also ordered that the respondent, the Greater Hume Shire Council, pay Ms Weber’s legal costs associated with both the Supreme trial and the Court of Appeal proceedings.
Maddens Lawyers Class Action Principal, Brendan Pendergast, who acts for Ms Weber said that this was an excellent outcome for those property owners affected by the fire. The Greater Hume Shire Council were unwilling to reach a resolution of the matter outside the Courts. Unfortunately, Ms Weber has had to wait almost 10 years to achieve compensation.
Ms Weber is the lead plaintiff of the class action proceeding. Her home was completely destroyed by the Walla Walla fire. The fire ignited at the Walla Walla rubbish tip which was operated by the Greater Hume Shire Council. Approximately 70 property owners, who are group members to the proceeding, suffered extensive loss and damage in the fire event.
“Now that the Court of Appeal has determined the Council is legally liable to property owners for the damage caused by the fire each of the group members represented by Maddens will be advancing their claims for compensation,” Mr Pendergast said.
Fire victims initially faced difficulties in advancing their claims against the Greater Hume Shire Council when the matter failed to be progressed by the first law firm they approached. Ms Weber said she is very glad that she and other group members approached Maddens Lawyers in March 2015, just six months prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations date.
“Nothing happened for six years which was very frustrating. As soon as Maddens Lawyers took over our claims were progressed, and we became optimistic that the matter would be resolved,” Ms Weber said.
Maddens Lawyers commenced class action proceedings in the Supreme Court in December 2015. The claim failed to resolve at a mediation. A trial was held in April 2017. Group members then faced a further wait when the Supreme Court judgement was reserved for over 12 months before it was handed down in May 2018. Unfortunately, that decision went against the Plaintiff.
After careful consideration of the available grounds of appeal, Maddens Lawyers proceeded to lodge an appeal which was heard in Sydney by the NSW Court of Appeal in February 2019. The unanimous favourable decision of the Court of Appeal was handed down just 7 weeks later.
“This matter has had a torturous history. It is unacceptable that these fire victims have had to wait ten years for justice. During that time these people have had to face significant adversity whilst they attempt to rebuild their lives and their farming businesses,” Mr Pendergast said.
Whilst it does not completely relieve their stress, fire victims will be entitled to recover all compensable losses and interest from the date of the fire. Mr Pendergast estimates the total compensation including interest and costs is likely to be well in excess of 20 million dollars.
Mr Pendergast urged any person impacted by the Walla Walla fire to register with Maddens Lawyers without delay if they have not already done so via Maddens Lawyers website. For more information contact Maddens Lawyers on 03 5560 2000 or email email@example.com
Brendan Pendergast, Senior Principal, Maddens Lawyers: 0419 538 142
Sarah Sheehan, Communications Manager, Maddens Lawyers: 0401 904 570