SYDNEY, July 15 Survivors of one of Australia's
deadliest wildfires won compensation of nearly A$500 million
($470 million) on Monday, the biggest class action settlement in
Australian legal history.
The Kilmore East-Kinglake bushfire in February 2009 claimed
119 lives, destroyed 1,200 homes and caused an estimated A$1
billion worth of damage. It was part of a series of blazes
across Victoria state, which became known as Black Saturday and
killed 173 people.
Under the settlement of about A$ 494 million reached with
the defendants after a 16-month trial in the Victoria Supreme
Court, energy company SP AusNet will pay the bulk of
the compensation - A$378.6 million.
Submissions by the 5,000 plaintiffs said one of the host of
fires had been caused by an ageing power line owned by the
company, majority owned by Singapore Power, itself
wholely owned by Singapore state investor Temasek.
Maintenance contractor Utility Services Corporation Ltd will
pay A$12.5 million and Victorian state parties, including
Victoria Police, the Country Fire Authority and the Department
of Sustainability and Environment will pay A$103.6 million.
"Today's settlement will provide significant compensation
for their losses and some long overdue justice for people who
have suffered great adversity," Andrew Watson of Maurice
Blackburn, the law firm that funded the case, said in a
SP AusNet said the settlement contained no admission of
liability on its behalf. Shares in the company, which extended
condolences to those who suffered losses in the fire, fell 1.1
percent to A$1.35, compared with a flat broader market.
Australia is the driest inhabited landmass on earth and is
particuarly prone to deadly wildfires, most often over the
($1 = 1.0644 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Ron Popeski)