UP to 10,000 claims for injury and damages could be lodged in a class action over a Black Saturday bushfire that killed 119 people.Plaintiff law firm Maurice Blackburn yesterday won a bid to close the class, meaning anyone seeking damages arising from the February 2009 fire at Kilmore East must now register with the firm.
The proceeding was issued as an open class, so that anyone who wanted to bring a damages claim under the category of having suffered loss from the fire could do so after the trial.
But Victorian Supreme Court Justice Jack Forrest ruled yesterday that the class should be closed and anyone wishing to register to participate in the action should do so by March 22.
Barrister for the victims, Lachlan Armstrong from Maurice Blackburn, said closing the class will more clearly identify the number of victims involved.
Justice Forrest said all parties agreed class closure in one form or another will help in settlement negotiations, given the size, complexity and duration of the case.
About 1900 people have registered with Maurice Blackburn to join in the action, but Mr Armstrong estimates there is potential for about 10,000 claims.
Of the claims received, about 900 to 1000 relate to physical injury encompassing death, as well as psychiatric injury.
A further 4000 claims have been identified by insurers while an estimated 5000 people are not insured and have not registered.
The trial for the class action, which is Victoria's biggest civil case, is due to begin in March.
Electrical company SP AusNet is being sued over the February 2009 bushfire which killed 119 people and destroyed more than 1000 homes.
SP AusNet has vowed to "vigorously defend" the class action, which centres on claims relating to the inspection and maintenance of its assets.
The trial is expected to run for six months.