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Court told Black Saturday case should be thrown out

The Age

Saturday March 26, 2011


A POWER company and state government agencies being sued in Victoria's largest class action over the Black Saturday bushfires want the case thrown out of court after revelations that a law firm filed the lawsuit in a survivor's name without his permission.The Supreme Court heard this was the second time in two months Oldham Naidoo Lawyers launched an unauthorised bushfire class action. The Age revealed earlier this week the firm admitted abuse of process for lodging a group claim over the 2003 alpine bushfires in the name of a Melbourne doctor without his authority.The Black Saturday case over the Kilmore East-Kinglake fire that claimed 119 lives can go ahead even if Justice Jack Forrest decides to dismiss the current class action as the law permits a fresh case to be launched. But if this happened and the class action eventually succeeded, bushfire victims would be out of pocket for two years' interest accrued since the original claim was lodged.The action covering more than 1000 people, exposes a potential liability in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It alleges SPI Electricity failed to monitor and maintain a power line that caused the blaze.Australia's largest class action law firm, Maurice Blackburn, which joined the case in May 2009, recently discovered the irregularity and informed the defendants and the court.Maurice Blackburn is now leading the class action, after new lead plaintiff Carol Matthews, whose son died in the fire, sacked Oldham Naidoo.Ten days after Black Saturday, Oldham Naidoo lodged the lawsuit in the name of Leo Keane, who had registered his property loss with the firm, the court heard.A solicitor emailed her boss Daniel Oldham (pictured), telling him she had spoken to Mr Keane but did not tell him he was lead plaintiff.Mr Oldham replied: "Just tell him he is named and we'll write further once we're able to confirm numbers and costs, just like 2003."The next day, Mr Keane found out he was lead plaintiff from the media. He asked to be removed as lead plaintiff, which Oldham Naidoo did not do.When the firm asked Maurice Blackburn to jointly run the case, it said nothing of how it had treated Mr Keane.Maurice Blackburn eventually replaced Mr Keane as lead plaintiff with Ms Matthews in 2010, as it thought she would be a better representative of the group claim.When allegations about the alpine bushfire case surfaced, Maurice Blackburn chairman Bernard Murphy later investigated Oldham Naidoo's early conduct in the Black Saturday case and discovered what had happened to Mr Keane.Justice Forrest reserved his decision.

© 2011 The Age

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