Support is gaining for a class action against Hazelwood mine operator GDF SUEZ after 100 residents gathered at a community meeting to discuss the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry report on Sunday.
Maurice Blackburn Traralgon principal lawyer Gino Andrieri said the firm’s work had moved into a “new phase” on the case as they developed a greater understanding of the fire’s impacts on individuals, businesses and business groups and other community representative groups in gathering valuable information on a potential case.
“We’ve had a positive community response regarding our potential action against GDF SUEZ, and being able to speak to people directly at the community meeting has reinforced that, so we will continue talking to community and local business groups to best represent their interests,” Mr Andrieri said.
Maurice Blackburn national head of class actions Andrew Watson addressed the crowd to discuss the firm’s investigation into the fire.
Mr Watson said the Mine Fire Inquiry report identified in fairly strong terms GDF SUEZ was inadequately prepared for the possibility of a fire in the mine.
He noted this included the “mere fact that no precautionary steps were taken in relation to worked-out areas of the mine” and the company not following a recommendation for a fire risk assessment after two smaller fires in the mine in 2005 and 2008.
“Based on those failures we think there’s a case to answer,” Mr Watson said.
Mr Watson said the next step would be to work out whether there were sufficient losses to warrant spending the time and cost involved in class action.
“Part of our desire to interact today with the community through this meeting is to remind all of you, and encourage all of you, about the need to give us a sense of what kind of support there is in the community for class action and what kind of losses there are,” Mr Watson said.
He said potentially easier-to-claim losses included property damage from ash and smoke, inconvenience damages affecting quality of life, specific recovery costs and business-owner claims.
More difficult losses would include health impacts from the fire.
“Let me be upfront and tell you, personal injury losses will be at the harder end of the spectrum in terms of recovery compensation because of the way the law works,” Mr Watson said.
“We’re not giving up on that at the outset, we’re going to ask people to give us details about that.”
Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer said there was strong local interest in holding the mine operators accountable for the impacts of the fire.
“There’s a growing chorus in our community who want to find a way to hold GDF SUEZ accountable for this preventable disaster and we’re continuing to work with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers to pursue our best options,” Mrs Farmer said.
Residents can register their details with Maurice Blackburn online at www.mauriceblackburn.com.au/hazelwood or phone 1800 643 211