'Like a cloud lifting': $212.5m PFAS settlement approved
THE Federal Judge who approved the $212.5m settlement of three class actions over PFAS contamination says the decision will be "like a cloud lifting" for some of its applicants.
But, in his judgment published this week, he said he also accepted there would be some who regarded the settlements as inadequate.
Justice Michael Lee earlier this month approved the settlements over contamination at three Royal Australian Air Force bases, including Oakey.
In his decision, Justice Lee said the class actions had caused, and continued to cause, "a good deal of vexation and angst" to those involved.
"Whatever I do, people will be disappointed in the outcome," he said.
The decision followed a two-day hearing of the settlement applications, in which a "tsunami of material" was handed to the court.
All three class actions involved claims made by either land owners or business owners over the alleged damages caused by the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals at the RAAF bases.
In the Oakey class action, land owners claimed the contamination had diminished their land value, while business owners claimed loss to their ability to earn income from the land.
The claims were described as "substantially similar" to those made in the Williamtown and Katherine class actions.
Addressing the objections that were received following the conditional settlements, Justice Lee said he sympathised with people who had been exposed to a "significant injustice".
"This feeling no doubt has motivated a large number of the objections to the settlements," he said.
"Given the strongly held views expressed by some as to the Commonwealth's actions, it is understandable why group members (acting in what they perceive to be their best interests) would have different views about the worth of the proposed settlements with the Commonwealth.
"For some, the proposed settlement is conceptualised as a deliverance - like a cloud lifting; the settlement, if approved, will allow them to put (at least some aspects of) their concerns behind them.
"For others, the settlement, at a figure which they regard as inadequate to reflect the wrongs they perceive they have suffered, will constitute a further exacerbation of the injustice they already keenly feel."
Justice Lee said the issue reflected in a large number of objections was not the gross settlement sum, but the amount that would be distributed to members of the class action.
He added the litigation funding fees had also been subject to "sustained criticism", but said the outcome of the settlement was a "testament to the benefits of litigation funding" in the legally complex case.