Posted on 07 Aug 2019
State Government-owned Western Power is demanding Parkerville bushfire victims pay millions in court costs, through an order it is seeking in the Supreme Court of Western Australia this week.
This is despite the power company having the option to claim those same costs back from the insurer of its subcontractor Thiess, under the terms of their service contract.
Western Power today applied in court to recover its costs from the victims who signed up as part of the successful Slater and Gordon-run class action*.
The company narrowly escaped liability by delegating responsibility to Thiess which was subsequently found liable for causing the 2014 Parkerville bushfire which razed 57 homes.
Thiess, and the owner of the land on which the rotten pole that started the fire was located, were found liable in a Supreme Court trial in March this year. They will now have to compensate the 189 affected residents and property owners who are part of the Slater and Gordon action.
While Western Power acknowledges it has the right to recover its costs from its negligent subcontractor, it has now chosen to first recover its legal costs directly from the victims of the fire.
Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Rory Walsh said: “Western Power is clearly acting against the best interests of the Western Australian public. Our clients, who are continuing to suffer the devastating financial impacts of this fire, had the courage to take on Western Power and its negligent subcontractor, and in doing so raised significant issues of safety within the Western Australian electricity networks.”
“Western Power was very, very lucky to escape liability in this case and it is now seeking its legal costs from a community already devastated by the bushfire caused by Western Power’s negligent contractor,” Mr Walsh said.
“Western Power has sought to justify chasing the victims of the fire in preference to its negligent subcontractor the Court found was responsible for starting it, by arguing the terms of the service contract requires it do so.
“We are not persuaded by that argument, but if it were correct then Western Power made a bad bargain on behalf of the citizens of WA.
“In either event, there is nothing compelling Western Power to recover its costs from the victims of its subcontractor’s negligence; Western Power is choosing to recover its costs from these people.”
We don’t believe there could ever be a good enough reason to pursue the victims of this fire.”
Mr Walsh said it was ludicrous to choose to send the bill to victims, rather than its negligent subcontractor who started the fire.
“We are vigorously opposing Western Power in this application. Whether it is intended or not to do so, it will have a chilling effect on the willingness of future fire victims to challenge Western Power. They should not be allowed to get away with this.
“We are used to standing up to this sort of corporate bullying from the big end of town, but we don’t expect it from a company owned by the citizens of Western Australia, nor from a State Government that campaigned on a platform of improving bushfire safety.
“It is simply a disgrace.”
Media Contact Therese Allaoui (03) 9602 6844 / 0428 994 937
*NB. While the action has been run as a collective or group action on behalf of 189 named residents and landowners, it is not a formal representative proceeding (or class action) in the ordinary sense as Western Australia did not have legislation in place for class actions to be run (unlike Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales and the Commonwealth jurisdictions).