All four St Patrick’s Day bush fires class actions were today listed for directions in the Supreme Court of Victoria. An update in relation to each matter can be found below.
The Garvoc Fire class action which involves approximately 40 fire victims continues to progress towards a trial. An order was made today to “close the class”. This means that if people impacted by the fire don’t register with Maddens by 22 March 2019 then they will not be able to receive any compensation if the matter is settled at mediation.
The parties have appeared before the mediator, however, a date for mediation has not yet been set. Loss assessors engaged by Maddens have made significant progress in assessing group member’s loss and damage. An experienced and independent rural loss assessor will now visit each group member’s property in the coming weeks to review and value the damage caused by the fire. The assessor will then prepare a valuation report for each group member, which will be used in support of their claim for compensation.
Powercor today requested that the Court allow it to add its line inspection contractor, Electrix, as a second defendant to the class action. Electrix were engaged by Powercor to undertake inspections of the pole in the years prior to its failure.
The trial has been set down to be heard in Warrnambool during the Supreme Court circuit commencing 21 October 2019.
The Terang Fire class action presently involves approximately 180 fire victims. As with the Garvoc matter an order to “close the class” was made today. The matter is advancing towards a Court ordered mediation however a date has not yet been fixed. There is a significant amount of work being undertaken at present to quantify and assess the total losses incurred by fire victims whose claims are being progressed through the class action.
Modified timetabling orders have also been made with the matter fixed for a trial to be heard in the Supreme Court sitting in Warrnambool in October of this year. There has been no application by Powercor to add another defendant to this proceeding.
On 8 February 2019 Justice Dixon of the Supreme Court of Victoria granted Powercor’s application to dismiss the Gazette Fire class action and today orders were made that Powercor be entitled to recover its costs of the proceeding on a standard basis. The effect of the order is that the lead plaintiffs and Powercor now have an opportunity to reach an agreement as to costs. In the event that no agreement is reached, the costs will be set by the Court. The Court will reference the Supreme Court Scale of Costs to determine the final cost amount.
Maddens Lawyers Class Action Principal Brendan Pendergast said that no costs amount has been sought by Powercor from the lead plaintiffs at this stage. Further, at no point will group members be liable for any legal costs.
“The effect of his Honour’s decision to dismiss the Gazette Fire class action is that the plaintiffs and affected property owners are prevented from having their claims against Powercor ventilated at trial.
“This is obviously a disappointing development and the plaintiffs are currently taking advice as to whether to appeal his Honour’s decision. That step will be considered by our legal team and clients in the forthcoming fortnight,” Mr Pendergast said.
The parties in the Gnotuk/Camperdown Fire class action today advised the Court that a confidential in-principle agreement to discontinue the proceeding has been reached. This agreement was reached with the unanimous support of the small group of property owners impacted by the Gnotuk/Camperdown fire following a meeting of the group in Camperdown recently.
While it has been a month of significant developments across the St Patrick’s Day bush fires class actions, Mr Pendergast said that Maddens remains committed to investigating and pursuing bushfire class action recoveries on behalf of the community.
“Maddens Lawyers is focused on ensuring that fire victims and impacted property owners’ entitlements to compensation are pursued. There were four serious fires in the South West on St Patrick’s Day. It is not disputed that each of those fires were started by electrical assets. We make no apology for advocating on behalf of fire-affected community members and will not shy away from the difficult cases,” Mr Pendergast said.
Brendan Pendergast, Senior Principal, Maddens Lawyers: 0439 385 349
Sarah Sheehan, Communications Manager, Maddens Lawyers: 0401 904 570