Supreme Court rules on class action landfill fire claim

Date: May 26, 2018

A class action liability claim regarding a fire at a Walla Walla refuse landfill has reached the NSW Supreme Court nearly a decade after the original incident.

In 2009, a blaze started at the tip that quickly spiralled out of control. The fire eventually spread beyond the confines of the landfill and across an adjacent abandoned golf course, before reaching the town of Gerogery where it caused considerable damage.

As with many class action lawsuits, an initial plaintiff was chosen as a test case to see whether or not the claim was likely to succeed in court. For this trial, a woman whose house was totally destroyed by the fire was selected. Fifty-seven people were part of the class action, with claims ranging from property damage to physical and psychiatric injuries. But was the plaintiff successful?

Establishing a duty of care and negligence

The plaintiff’s lawyers argued that the defendant – the operator of the landfill – owed locals a duty of care on two fronts:

  1. To prevent fires from igniting at the tip; and
  2. To stop any blazes from spreading beyond the site.

The plaintiff was unable to establish how the fire started, which led Justice Michael Walton to rule that a duty of care had not been breached on the first point. But he confirmed the landfill operator did owe a duty of care to protect the local community from fires spreading beyond the tip.

Justice Walton also ruled the defendant had breached its duty of care by failing to implement a number of safety standards, including a fire management plan and an effective firebreak.

Was the liability claim successful?

Unfortunately for the plaintiff – and the wider class action lawsuit – Justice Walton ultimately ruled in favour of the defendant.

He believed the plaintiff’s legal team failed to establish causation. In other words, her lawyers did not prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the defendant’s duty of care breach brought harm to the claimant.

“The plaintiff has not demonstrated that, if the reasonable precautions were sufficiently taken, that the harm caused to the plaintiff by the spread of the fire would have been avoided,” Justice Walton explained.

Making a public liability claim

As we can see, public liability claims are a complex area of personal injury law, and a strict burden of proof often lies with the plaintiff.

If you’re concerned about winning a claim, please contact a no-win, no-fee lawyer today to discuss your case. Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers can cover all the upfront legal costs of a claim to give you financial peace of mind when pursuing damages.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.