The Defence department cannot give us back the last six years of our lives but they can financially compensate us a reasonable and fair amount to let us live the rest of our lives without PFAS, said Jennifer Spencer, a resident from Oakey, west of Brisbane.
The amount of our current offer is not enough for us to be able to do that.
Several residents queried why losses were not investigated on a case-by-case basis before the settlement was reached.
Some spoke of private or court-ordered valuations they said showed property losses well in excess of the 27 per cent devaluation figure that guided the settlement negotiations.
Justice Lee noted the devastation the contamination wrought on people’s lives but cautioned it was not within his powers to increase the settlement and the only alternate option was a trial.
This came with real risks, he warned, because litigation was a brutal business with a winner takes all approach.
I think those experienced in litigation will tell you that sometimes a bird in hand is worth two in the bush, not only from a money point of view but importantly from an emotional point of view as well, Justice Lee said.
While a court-appointed umpire deemed the breakdown of the lawyers expenses to be reasonable, Justice Lee said it was of ongoing concern that two sets of solicitors were running the case.
Youve got a lot of people with their beaks in this, he said.
The litigation funder that bankrolled the class action, Omni Bridgeway, will take $53.1 million in profits and $940,000 to cover its out-of-pocket costs.
The lawyers, from Dentons and Shine law firms, will receive $30.1 million to cover their costs.
Around $2 million will be siphoned off to administer the distribution of the settlement and $320,000 will go to the community members who took a leading role in spear-heading the case.
The expenses total over $86 million, meaning residents will keep $126 million of their $212 million settlement.
One class action participant, who asked to remain anonymous, slammed the costs as unconscionable.
Some people have had their lives destroyed, I dont think people should make an obscene amount of money [out of that], she said.
However, community campaigner Cain Gorfine said the vast majority of residents were supportive of the settlement and defended the proportion being paid to the legal team.
We’ve had the full resources of government thrown against us, he said.
There is no perfect process but we cannot afford another four years of legal action.
A lawyer who brokered the settlement on behalf of the residents warned if the case went to trial there would be “substantial contests” over legal questions of causation and liability.
The class actions covered around 500 claimants in Williamtown, north of Newcastle, and Oakey respectively, and up to three thousand people in Katherine in the Northern Territory.
There were 27 objections from Williamtown and 11 letters of support for the settlement, along with 29 objections from Oakey, and 31 objections and five letters of support from Katherine.
Carrie Fellner is an investigative reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.