Victims of Queensland’s 2011 floods recorded an historic victory on 29 November, after a court found that negligence by the operators of the Wivenhoe and Somerset dams exacerbated the disaster.
The decision means about 6800 Queenslanders, who banded together in one of Australia’s largest ever class actions, will receive compensation after taking on the State of Queensland, Seqwater and SunWater.
NSW Supreme Court Justice, Robert Beech-Jones, 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 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.
“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 judgement 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 8 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 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.
Seqwater and SunWater are yet to respond to the decision.