THE Supreme Court of Victoria has today approved a $23.5 million settlement against a local council and the Environmental protection Agency, ending a two and a half year legal battle led by class action law firm Slater & Gordon.
In a win for Cranbourne property owners, the Supreme Court has approved the settlement after a long fight sparked by high levels of methane gas. The law firm was acting on a no-win, no-fee basis.
Today the court approved the details of the settlement negotiated by Slater & Gordon on behalf of property owners whose homes and lives were disrupted by high levels of methane gas from a nearby, disused landfill. The gas leaks prompted an emergency response in August 2008, including some evacuations, and have resulted in significant remediation works being undertaken at the site.
More than 750 property owners will benefit from the landmark settlement that was finalised with the City of Casey and the EPA. As part of the terms of the settlement the City of Casey has agreed to pay $13.5 million, while the EPA will provide $10 million.
Slater & Gordon litigation lawyer Manisha Blencowe said today’s approval represented a positive conclusion for the property owners on whose behalf the class action was brought.
“It has been over two and a half years since the gas leaks caused an emergency situation in Cranbourne and since the legal action started. The plaintiffs and group members have stuck together throughout a very stressful period and they can now put the uncertainty behind them,” Ms Blencowe said.
“Today marks an end to the financial uncertainty that group members have faced and will help them move forward with their plans for their homes and lives.”
Ms Blencowe said the settlement would see owners receiving an individual settlement between $6,000 and $130,000, based on the relative strength of each owner’s claim, including their proximity to the landfill site.
She said members of the class action could expect to receive their payment by the middle of July, with final payments in August.
Matthew Wheelahan, a lead plaintiff along with his wife Theresa, said he was pleased the matter had been resolved.
“We have had to contend with a lot for the last couple of years – odours, noise and a loss of privacy because of the gas problems and remediation works,” Wheelahan said.
“The compensation will help us move on from the leaks. I think most owners in our neighbourhood are happy to finally be thinking about the future and not the past,” he said.
The settlement submitted to the court will see property owners sharing in at least $17.25 million from the payout, with the remainder to cover the plaintiffs and group members’ legal costs, including experts.
Blencowe said the case was only possible because of Australia’s class action system, which allowed people to come together to take legal action.
“This legal work has involved research going back more than 20 years and searching through over 100,000 documents; it has required significant involvement by experts and involved more than a dozen parties,” Blencowe said.
“It has been an enormous undertaking with hundreds of home owners affected, but we are proud to have run this case and delivered a successful outcome after a long and difficult fight.”