Black Saturday bushfire class action scores $500m

SURVIVORS of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfire have settled a class action for $500 million, making it the largest settlement in Australian history.

The largest before this was the $200 million won in the class action shareholders launched against Centro.

Lead plaintiff Carol Matthews who lost her son Sam and her home to the fire has agreed to the settlement on behalf of more than 5000 people.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers head of class actions Andrew Watson said the action was the "hardest fought, longest and most difficult" his team had run.

"This case was fought over more than five years against SP AusNet and four other defendants with a 16 month trial. That long fight has led to what will be a record settlement of more than $494 million dollars," Mr Watson said.

"No amount of money will replace what this fire took from those who had so much taken away from them, but if approved, today's settlement will provide significant compensation for their losses and some long overdue justice for people who have suffered great adversity."

Mrs Matthews said the gruelling process had taken its toll but she felt she had to keep fighting to ensure success for other survivors.

"It has been a tough, gruelling five years since the fire killed our son, left our daughter without her big brother, and destroyed our home. There is so much pain that is still very real, but today there is also a sense of justice," Mrs Matthews said.

"I know the impact the fire has had on the people and communities affected, and I know how strongly people felt that we were being hung out to dry while those that started the fire got away with it. And while nothing will make up for what we lost, today's win will be an important step in the right direction for thousands of deserving people."

TIMELINE

  • Saturday 7 February, 2009: The Kilmore East - Kinglake Black Saturday bushfires take 119 lives and destroy 1242 properties
     
  • Monday 4 March, 2013: The class action trial begins in the Supreme Court of Victoria, in a purpose-built courtroom in the William Cooper Justice Centre
     
  • Wednesday 18 June, 2014: The trial concludes, with judgment expected early in 2015
     
  • Tuesday 15 July, 2014: Australia's largest class action settlement of more than $494 million reached between the parties, subject to court approval.


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