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Flood class action faces ‘significant hurdles’

A potential class action against Queensland Government-owned utility Seqwater is premature and would face “significant hurdles” getting off the ground, law firm Slater & Gordon has warned.

As rival plaintiff lawyers Maurice Blackburn prepares what it claims will be the largest class action in Australian history, bankrolled by litigation funders IMF, Slater & Gordon has said any class action must wait pending the outcome of a potential criminal trial against the Wivenhoe Dam’s engineers.

The findings of the $15 million flood inquiry were delivered to Premier Anna Bligh on Friday, finding the operators of the Wivenhoe Dam breached the dam’s operations manual. In recounting their actions, flood engineers John Tibaldi, Rob Ayre and Terry Malone concluded they had used certain release strategies but did not provide an honest account, the inquiry found.

Ms Bligh has referred the inquiry’s findings to the Crimes and Misconduct Commission (CMC).

Slater & Gordon GM Commercial and Project Litigation James Higgins told no class action can proceed until the Queensland Government has been given an opportunity to respond. Ms Bligh said on Friday she will implement the inquiry’s recommendations “lock, stock and barrel”.

“A further complication, as an outcome of today’s report, is the referral of the dam’s engineers to the CMC,” Mr Higgins said. “This referral has the potential to prevent any civil proceedings until the conclusion of a potential criminal trial.

“Given the length and complexity of the report, and the substantial work conducted by the commission in preparing it, it is only appropriate to consider the report fully before forming any conclusions about potential legal action.”

Maurice Blackburn, which has held five public meetings in flood-affected areas and is hosting a sixth today, says the report “confirms what many people suspected”.

“The findings of the inquiry give hope to those wanting to be part of a potential class action,” partner Rod Hodgson said.

“Too much water was allowed to accumulate in Wivenhoe, and the strategy for water releases was botched.

“The inquiry also found that opportunities may have existed for earlier releases of water.”

Until recently Maurice Blackburn said at least 1000 people have expressed an interest in joining the class action. Mr Hodgson says the firm has continued to collate evidence as the class action “gathers pace”.

Other law firms, such as Shine Lawyers, have decided against launching separate class actions.

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