Victims of southeast Queensland’s 2011 floods have finally won a partial, $440 million payout a decade after the negligent operation of two dams saw thousands of homes and businesses swamped.
The Queensland government and state-owned dam operator SunWater have agreed to the payout, which is about half of what’s owed to about 6700 class action members.
But there’s been no settlement with the other dam operator, state-owned Seqwater.
Seqwater is appealing the NSW Supreme Court’s decision in 2019 that Wivenhoe and Somerset dams were not operated properly in the lead-up to the floods.
Back in 2019, Justice Robert Beech-Jones found flood engineers operating the two dams before and during a “biblical” deluge in January 2011 failed their duty of care.
He found some of their decisions ignored what was in a dam operating manual they’d helped draft, and that their delayed actions worsened downstream flooding.
About 23,000 homes and businesses flooded in Brisbane and Ipswich after huge releases were made to safeguard the structural integrity of the dams.
Class action law firm Maurice Blackburn said Seqwater would continue to appeal the 2019 ruling, and despite a partial win on Friday, flood victims will have to endure more waiting to see if the second half of their claim succeeds.
“We hope (it) will bring some much-needed closure to our clients, who have had to endure significant uncertainty and frustration while the defendants fought this case at every turn,” principal Rebecca Gilsenan said in a statement.
“Of course, complete closure can only happen for our clients when Seqwater also settles, or Seqwater’s appeal is finalised.
“The class will continue to vigorously fight Seqwater’s appeal, buoyed by today’s substantial settlement reached with the other two defendants.”
The settlement is subject to approval by the NSW Supreme Court and agreement on terms, with an approval hearing likely to happen before Seqwater’s appeal starts in May.
Part of Friday’s $440 million settlement will go to litigation funder Omni Bridgeway, which has estimated a total payout of $880 million if Seqwater’s appeal fails.
The case was heard in a NSW court because it was initiated before class actions were allowed in Queensland in 2017.