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Court asks unhappy PFAS class action members to have their say

Katherine property owners needed to live within this contamination zone and have owned their land on November 23, 2016.
Katherine property owners needed to live within this contamination zone and have owned their land on November 23, 2016.

The Federal Court has asked unhappy members of the Katherine PFAS class action to have their say on the settlement.

Katherine residents are set to receive $92.5 million as a result of the successful class action against the Federal Government on PFAS contamination.

There are believed to be 2500 eligible property owners in Katherine in line for some payment.

But many people are unhappy about the size of the settlement, once distributed over such a large number and legal costs are deducted, plus the restrictions on who was “opted in” to the class action.

The judge who will rule on the PFAS class action settlement between Williamtown residents and the federal government has invited any class action members who are dissatisfied with the proposed compensation deal to make their views known to the court.

More than 40,000 Australians will also be involved in a new PFAS class action being filed to the Federal Court by Shine Lawyers in NSW on Thursday.

Residents of Wagga Wagga and Richmond in NSW, Wodonga in Victoria, Darwin and Townsville in Queensland, Edinburgh in South Australia and Bullsbrook in Western Australia also allege their land and water supplies have been contaminated by PFAS chemicals used in military bases.

Lawyers representing Katherine, Oakey in Queensland and Williamtown in NSW reached a proposed $212.5 million settlement with the government in late February for compensation for the loss of property values.

Williamtown residents received $86 million, Oakley residents $34 million and Katherine residents $92.5 million.

Costs for the Williamtown class action are expected to be about 37 per cent of the community’s settlement. By comparison, almost half of the Oakey community’s settlement will be taken in costs.

To be eligible for compensation under the class action you need to own, or have owned, a property within the investigation area as at November 23, 2016.

The investigation area was detailed by Defence during its testing for contamination flowing from the Tindal RAAF Base.

While individual compensation amounts will vary, the court heard one Williamtown property had lost 20 per cent of its value as a result of PFAS contamination.

Justice Lee said he hoped compensation would flow through to members without undue delay.

More reading: Katherine PFAS timeline.

However, an amicus – a independent barrister who would represent the interests of class action members – may be appointed if objections to the proposed settlement required further scrutiny by the court.

“I don’t want to dissuade people from putting in a notice of objection,” Justice Lee said.

Williamtown class action member Rob Roseworn has already written to the court to request that the lawyers be sent back to the negotiating table.

A hearing for approval of the terms of settlement will be held on June 4 and 5. Objectors to the settlement may also be heard at that time.

The court will also consider a proposed $20,000 payment to each of the steering committee members for the time they had spent assisting in the preparation of the class action.

A spokesman for the lawyers representing the Williamtown class action said the committee members had each invested hundreds of hours on the case.

“From day one of this issue, residents on this steering committee have worked tirelessly and unselfishly for their community,” he said.

“That included robust and regular discussions about strategy and approach during the course of over 150 teleconferences with the legal team as well as conducting over 500 media interviews locally and nationally on behalf of the community. The importance of the work performed by the steering committee to assist the legal team cannot be underestimated and we thank them for their support.”

This class action did not make any claim for personal injuries relating to exposure to PFAS contamination.

It is considered this could still happen in the future.

Chris McLennan

Source: www.katherinetimes.com.au

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