Maurice Blackburn to start class action on equine flu outbreak

5 July 2012
National class actions law firm Maurice Blackburn is launching a class action against the Commonwealth over the equine influenza (EI) outbreak in 2007 which devastated the racing and other horse-related industries.

It is alleged that the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), an arm of the Commonwealth Government, is accountable for substantial losses in equine industries when the EI outbreak escaped from the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station and spread across eastern Australia, between August 2007 and January 2008.

Maurice Blackburn has entered into an agreement with law firm Attwood Marshall who has been running a claim in the Qld Supreme Court. Attwood Marshall has over 500 clients who were affected by the outbreak, and who are now invited to sign up with Maurice Blackburn.

The class action will be lodged in the Federal Court in NSW within months. The UK based Argentum Litigation Services is funding the class action.

Maurice Blackburn principal Damian Scattini said it was widely accepted that the Commonwealth failed to implement quarantine and biosecurity measures which would have prevented the disease from infecting horses in Australia. An inquiry by former High Court judge Ian Callinan AC found significant systemic failures of the quarantine system in Australia.

"Equine influenza is an acute, highly contagious virus, resulting in outbreaks of respiratory disease. In Australia in 2007, the horse population was unvaccinated with no prior exposure to the virus, so the infection spread like wildfire.

"The outbreak had a devastating impact on the nation's thoroughbred breeding, racing, and other equine industries.  Many people and businesses in the horse and racing industry faced substantial costs and financial hardship," said Mr Scattini.

"The failure by the AQIS to have even basic measures in place to prevent a major outbreak of the disease, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and job losses.

"This happened at the worst possible time of the year too - during the breeding season and in the lead up to Spring racing carnival, preventing the movement of horses across the country. It makes horses very sick and any pregnant mares spontaneously abort their foetuses, making horse breeding impossible when an outbreak occurs.

Heath Ryan, a former Olympian, trainer, coach and owner of Ryan Horses says he will be  joining the class action because the EI outbreak had a critical impact on his livelihood.

"It was a massive disruption to us and completely cut off all of our income streams during that time.

"We couldn't move horses anywhere. We couldn't train horses, run clinics or sell horses," said Mr Ryan.

"It substantially reduced the number of foals born that year and some of them hit the ground in a sickly way.

"We know people who lost foals and valuable horses.

"I believe that the equine influenza outbreak affected the hopes and chances of young Australians who wanted to participate in overseas Equestrian events too. I just don't think the industry has been able to enjoy the momentum that it should have if equine influenza had not struck.

Mr Scattini said that Mr Ryan's experience was common in the industry. "Some people did receive compensation under the Commercial Horse Assistance Payment Scheme (CHAPS). However, the Australian Horse Industry Council conducted a Follow-Up Impact Study in February 2008 which concluded that the compensatory payments only offset losses by 8.5% or less," he said.

The class action will be open to eligible individuals and businesses who suffered economic loss as a result of the outbreak. The firm will work with Attwood Marshall who initially established the case.

People eligible to join include individuals, businesses, clubs, associations and not-for-profit organisations.

For further information go to: Equine Influenza Class Action

Maurice Blackburn's other class actions

Maurice Blackburn's class actions practice is the largest in Australia and has secured more than $700 million in settlements for shareholders, businesses and consumers over the past 14 years.

In 2010 Maurice Blackburn settled two major shareholder class actions against AWB and Multiplex. Maurice Blackburn is the only class action law firm to have achieved settlements over $100m including against Aristocrat ($144.5m), GIO ($112m) and Multiplex ($110m) Centro ($150m). The firm is currently acting in a series of other shareholder class actions including claims against NABGunns and Nufarm. Class actions for victims of faulty products and price fixing cartels are also being conducted by Maurice Blackburn. In March 2011 the firm settled a massive cartel claim against Amcor and Visy for $120m - the largest cartel settlement in Australian corporate history. It is also conducting a series of class actions against banks over bank exception fees.