Historic court victory for Queensland flood victims

29 November 2019
Victims of Queensland’s devastating 2011 floods today recorded an historic victory after a court found that negligence by the operators of the Wivenhoe and Somerset dams exacerbated the disaster.

The decision means about 6,800 Queenslanders who banded together in one of Australia’s largest ever class actions will finally receive compensation after taking on the State of Queensland, Seqwater and SunWater.

NSW Supreme Court Justice Robert Beech-Jones this morning found that the dam operators failed to operate the dams properly and did not take into account rainfall forecasts when releasing water.

Maurice Blackburn Principal Lawyer Rebecca Gilsenan said the judgment came after a long and protracted legal battle.

“Our clients concern is that the dams above Brisbane were negligently operated in the 2011 floods, has been vindicated. The NSW Supreme Court has delivered justice and resolution to the residents of SE Queensland for the unnecessary devastation that they suffered,” Ms Gilsenan said.

“The focus of the defendants now should be to compensate the victims of their negligence swiftly and fairly and to bring to a close this long and distressing saga.”

“The outcome demonstrates the benefits of class actions and litigation funding. Thousands of Queenslanders were able to access the justice system using the class actions mechanism with the financial support of litigation funders, IMF Bentham and Innsworth. They would not have been able to do it alone.”

“This was hard a fought and highly complex litigation. The defendants fought the action on every point. At one stage Seqwater sought to blame the victims for not doing enough to protect their property from destruction.”

“This case was not only important in delivering much-needed compensation for flood victims – it has also looked extensively at how Wivenhoe and Somerset Dams should be operated in future flood events that will ultimately lead to people downstream being safer in future.”

Lead plaintiff Vince Rodriguez, whose sports store was ruined in the floods, said the judgment meant he and his family could finally get on with their lives.

“This has been going on for almost nine years. We have been waiting for this outcome for a very long time and we are so relieved that the court has found what we have known for a long time, that the dams were mismanaged in 2011," Mr Rodriguez said.

Maurice Blackburn filed a class action in the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 8th July, 2014, seeking compensation for financial loss and damage caused by the negligent operation of Wivenhoe and Somerset dams during the January 2011 flood in South East Queensland. The action is being funded by litigation funders, IMF Bentham and Innsworth Investments.

The trial of this proceeding commenced in the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 4 December 2017 and concluded in March 2019.

The action alleged that the dam operators were negligent in failing to use rainfall forecasts in making decisions about operating strategies, and failing to preserve a reasonable amount of the dams' storage capacity in order to provide optimum protection of urbanised areas from inundation.

This negligent conduct, in addition to other conduct, contributed significantly to the downstream flooding experienced in Brisbane and Ipswich.

Class action members will receive varying amounts in compensation depending on their individual circumstances.

Media inquiries: Paddy Murphy at Maurice Blackburn T 03) 8102 2003 / 0490 297 391  E pmurphy@mauriceblackburn.com.au

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