Brisbane floods class action sent to mediation
Class Actions June 11, 2018 9:23 pm By Miklos Bolza | Sydney

A judge has ordered mediation in the Brisbane floods class action, in which the victims of the 2011 disaster are seeking up to $1 billion in compensation.

IMF Bentham, which is funding the litigation, announced Thursday that the New South Wales Supreme Court ordered the parties into mediation  June 21 and 22.

The class action, led by Maurice Blackburn, represents around 6,500 flood victims. It accuses the Queensland Bulk Water Supply Authority, trading as Seqwater, of failing to use rainfall forecasts and failing to protect property owners from inundation by releasing water from the Wivenhoe Dam to prevent its collapse after heavy rains in January 2011.

“The class action alleges that the negligent operation of the Wivenhoe and Somerset dams in the lead up to and during the 2011 flood significantly contributed to the extent and the level of flooding downstream of the dams and created a flood that was much worse than it would have been if the dams had been operated competently,” Maurice Blackburn said.

SunWater, which was contracted by Seqwater to manage the dam, and the State of Queensland have also been listed as defendants in the proceedings, which were filed in July 2014.

Seqwater has denied any wrongdoing and has said it will be “vindicated” by the Supreme Court.

“The January flood event, while devastating to many South East Queenslanders, was a consequence of extremely heavy rainfall across the catchments upstream and downstream of the Wivenhoe Dam and not the operation of the dams,” the firm said in a statement last December.

With more than 2,000 homes flooded in Southeast Queensland due to the heavy rains, the estimated economic cost throughout the region reached $2.38 billion.

The Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry released in 2012 found the dam’s operators did not comply with the operating manual which Commissioner, Justice Catherine Holmes, said was “ambiguous, unclear and difficult to use”. However, the report stopped short of blaming the operators’ actions for contributing to further damage downstream.

The class action, funded by IMF Bentham, is currently running in the NSW Supreme Court, as class actions could only be brought in the Queensland Supreme Court as of March 1, 2017.

The trial, which commenced in December and ran for two weeks before the Christmas break, resumed again in February. It is still ongoing.

There are two concurrent cases within these proceedings: Rodriguez & Sons Pty Ltd v Queensland Bulk Water Supply Authority trading as Seqwater and Lynette Joy Lynch v Queensland Bulk Water Authority trading as Seqwater.

Barrister Julian Sexton, SC, of Tenth Floor Chambers represents the class, while Brian O’Donnell, QC, of McPherson Chambers represents the defendants.

Queensland Bulk Water Supply Authority is represented by King & Wood Mallesons, SunWater is represented by Norton Rose Fulbright, and the State of Queensland is represented by the Crown Solicitor.

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Miklos Bolza

Miklos Bolza has been a journalist for three years. He has written for a variety of publications, including NZ Lawyer, HRD Australia, and Australian Broker. He is currently the Sydney court reporter for Lawyerly.