'Black Saturday' survivors receive record payout

Last updated 20:46 15/07/2014

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It was a record-breaking payment, but it would never be enough.

February 7, 2009 was a record breaker, too.

And for the 5000 survivors who were party to the Black Saturday bushfire class action, the $500 million settlement reached on Tuesday might provide compensation, but little comfort.

Of the 173 Victorian lives lost that day, 119 were in the East Kilmore-Kinglake region, with 1242 properties destroyed in the same community.

''There is so much pain that is still very real,'' lead plaintiff Carol Matthews said.

''But today there is also a sense of justice.''

The St Andrews mother who lost her 22-year-old son Sam in the fires led a five-year fight for compensation.

The Kilmore East and Kinglake survivors sued electricity provider SP AusNet, Utility Services Corporation Limited and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE).

They alleged the power company was negligent in failing to maintain power lines, the department failed to reduce fuel loads and the utility company failed in its duty to maintain the power line.

The total payout - the largest class action settlement in Australian history - will be about $494.7 million (NZ$527m), paid by SP AusNet, Utility Services Corporation Ltd and the Victorian government.

''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,'' Matthews said.

Matthews said nothing would ever take away the pain of losing her son but there was an element of relief the settlement would relieve the financial struggle that so many faced on a day-to-day basis.

The settlement was reached without admission of liability.

In a statement, SP AusNet said experts had accepted the conductor that broke and initiated the fire was damaged by lightning, which compromised it.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Andrew Watson said the sheer volume of the claims meant it would take 12 to 18 months to distribute the settlement once it has received court approval.

A date is yet to be set for the Victorian Supreme Court hearing, but Watson said it could be some months.

Premier Denis Napthine said insurance would cover the government's liability and the record payout will not affect the state budget bottom line.

Tuesday's decision followed a $32.85 million settlement for survivors of the Beechworth-Mudgegonga bushfire that cost two lives and destroyed 38 homes.

A separate class action was launched in August 2012 against SP AusNet for the Murrindindi-Marysville blaze which destroyed 500 homes and killed 50 people.

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