A devastating bushfire that ravaged the southern Tasmanian town of Dunalley in January 2013 would not have happened without the negligence of an owner who allowed a campfire to be started in a stump tree on his property several days earlier, the Hobart Supreme Court ruled.
Judge Stephen Estcourt has delivered his ruling in one of Tasmania’s largest civil cases.
About 400 plaintiffs were listed in the case, alleging that Melissa Jane Barrett and her partner were negligent in starting the fire in the old stump on December 28, 2012, were negligent in their “derisory efforts” to put out the fire, and that Mrs. Barrett was negligent in responding to the observation of steam rising from the stump after light rains on January 1 or 2.
Justice Estcourt said he accepted these comments.
“Without the alleged negligence, the bushfire would not have taken place and none of the complainants would have suffered any loss from the bushfire,” he said.
Sonia Daly has been named as the test plaintiff in the case. Justice Estcourt ruled that Ms. Barrett was responsible for Ms. Daly’s losses – valued at $ 300,000.
“It follows in principle that [Ms Barrett] should be liable to each of the other plaintiffs … subject to proof of damage, âJudge Estcourt said.
The plaintiffs are represented by three insurance companies, which are suing the defendants’ insurance companies. It is not known how long it would take insurers to receive the money.
Ms Barrett’s partner Hamish Robinson settled her case for an undisclosed sum in April.