An Australian flag hangs from a tree in Marysville,
Victoria on the three-month anniversary of Black Saturday
in May 2009. Photo Getty
Survivors of Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires will
receive nearly $500 million in the largest class action
settlement in Australian history.
Lead plaintiff Carol Matthews and an estimated 10,000 members
claimed energy provider SPI Electricity's faulty equipment
ignited the Kilmore East/King Lake bushfire in February 2009.
SP AusNet and other parties agreed to settle the action on
The fire killed 119 people, destroyed 1200 homes and caused
an estimated $1 billion worth of damage.
SP AusNet said the settlement was reached without admission
of liability by the company or any other party.
The group also sued Utility Services Corporation Limited,
which was contracted by SP AusNet to maintain the line, and
the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) for
allegedly failing to reduce fuel loads.
The total payout will be about $494.7 million, paid by SP
AusNet, Utility Services Corporation Ltd and Victorian State
In a statement, SP AusNet, which is registered as SPI
Electricity, said it sought to conduct its defence in a
manner to avoid adding to the group members' pain, while
demonstrating that SP AusNet managed its network competently
"The conductor which broke and which initiated the fire was
damaged by lightning, compromising its fail-safety design in
a manner which was undetectable at that time," the company
This point, it said, was accepted by experts.
"It is a tragedy that the conductor eventually failed on one
of the worst days imaginable."
Maurice Blackburn lawyers said the payout was more than
double the previous highest Australian class action settled
of $200 million in the Centro shareholder class action.
"After the state's deadliest and most devastating bushfire
took 119 lives and 1242 properties, after a Royal Commission
and after Australia's longest ever class action trial, the
survivors of the 2009 Kilmore-East Kinglake Black Saturday
bushfire get some justice today," Maurice Blackburn said in a
The class action was so large the Victorian government funded
a purpose built courtroom to accommodate the teams of
barristers, expert witnesses and large numbers of people
interested in attending the trial.
The settlement is subject to court approval.
A date for the hearing of the proposed terms is yet to be
SP AusNet said its liability insurers would pay its