The total payout to victims of the 2011 floods could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS

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Defendants disagree over Qld flood payout

2020-04-30 12:41:21

Lawyers for victims of the 2011 Brisbane floods and a large Queensland dam operator are in “furious agreement” about how to split one of Australia’s biggest class-action payouts, a NSW court has heard.

The NSW Supreme Court in 2019 found the Queensland government and two state-owned water suppliers liable for the failures of engineers operating Wivenhoe and Somerset dams in 2011.

As the debate on Wednesday turned to how much each party was responsible, lawyers working on behalf of almost 7000 flood victims argued the government and its water suppliers Seqwater and Sunwater were equally liable and should pay 33 per cent each.

“The plaintiff and the first defendant (Seqwater) are at long last in furious agreement on how to allocate responsibility,” Julian Sexton SC for the flood victims told the court on Wednesday.

Justice Robert Beech-Jones in November found four engineers exacerbated flooding downstream of the two dams by not releasing enough water in the days before a deluge of “biblical” proportions fell in January 2011.

To support its claim that the bill should be split equally, Seqwater says representatives of the three defendants met on January 9 “and adopted a joint approach”.

None of the flood engineers at any time expressed “any concern, criticism or even reservation” about the course of conduct consensually devised and implemented by the three employers, its written submission states.

However, Sunwater only employed one of the engineers and thus says it should only foot 25 per cent of the bill.

It says the duty-of-care breach was due to a joint enterprise between the flood engineers and, thus, liability was split equally among those employees.

Seqwater employed two engineers while the government employed the fourth.

The total payout could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, class action law firm Maurice Blackburn has said.

“Eight per cent is quite a lot of money in the circumstances of this litigation,” Mr Sexton said.

The hearing is scheduled to run until Friday.

But victims may never see a cent as Seqwater and Sunwater have both launched appeals against the original judgment.

That appeal is scheduled to be mentioned in court on June 24.