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More than 750 estate home owners affected by gas leaks from a disused landfill site in Cranbourne will be compensated following a landmark $23.5 million settlement submitted to the Supreme Court of Victoria today by national law firm Slater and Gordon.
Slater and Gordon launched a class action with lead plaintiffs Matthew and Theresa Wheelahan in November 2008, after high levels of methane gas were detected in houses at Brookland Greens estate on August 31 that year. The gas leaks sparked an emergency response at the time.
Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Ben Hardwick heralded the settlement scheme as a win for the property owners “whose home and financial lives have been in limbo for more than two years”.
“There will be relief in Cranbourne tonight as home owners know that this legal fight is coming to an end and that the City of Casey and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have accepted the fact that the residents deserve compensation,” Mr Hardwick said.
“Our clients have been determined, they’ve stuck together and they’ve displayed a high degree of patience throughout this process. Today a win has been delivered and they can start to move on with their lives.”
“Matthew and Theresa Wheelahan must be congratulated for their courage in being the lead plaintiffs and carrying the burden and knowledge that if their claim failed then they would have to cover the legal costs.”
Mr Hardwick said the compensation payment would account for issues that have arisen in relation to property values and their ability to use and enjoy their properties.
Mr and Mrs Wheelahan welcomed the announcement.
“There has been a lot stress and anxiety amongst residents since the evacuation advice was given in August 2008,” Mr Wheelahan said.
“We have had to live with a great deal of uncertainty and disruption for the past two and a half years.
“We put up with noise, odours, dust and a loss of privacy as they have undertaken a lot of work to fix the landfill site.
“Many of us purchased our homes in good faith, that we were moving to a new development that had been properly developed, but we were let down by the council and the EPA.”
Mr Hardwick said the case was a warning to those responsible for managing sensitive sites.
“This is a significant case for environmental law in Australia. This successful settlement sends a message to all councils and authorities managing environmentally sensitive sites that it is critical to properly address the risks such as landfill gas migration, and to do it prudently.
“We believe this case could have been averted had there been some relatively cost-effective preventative measures adopted at an earlier time. It is pleasing that in 2010 the EPA stepped up to the plate and imposed strict environmental performance measures for the clean up of the site.”
Slater and Gordon ran the case on a No Win - No Fee basis. 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.
“This claim has been a highly complex and a very large piece of litigation which involved 14 parties and their legal representatives. The claim was so large that the Supreme Court in Victoria was forced to utilise rooms at the Federal Court for pre-trial hearings.”
Mr Hardwick said individual compensation payments were expected to range between $6,000 and $130,000. Individual payments to clients will not be disclosed.
He said the individual payments would reflect the strengths and weaknesses of each property owner’s claims.
“The payment amount will depend on a range of factors, particularly their proximity to the former landfill site.”
Today the Supreme Court of Victoria has approved the issuing of notices to all group members about the settlement scheme. Slater and Gordon will begin to contact its clients today.
“This claim could never have proceeded without the property owners being able to come together under our class action system.
“Slater and Gordon is proud to have backed the property owners in their case for compensation. We are particularly pleased for our clients that it has resolved before entering into a long and expensive trial.”