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Black Saturday survivors to receive $500 million payout from class action -

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ELEANOR HALL: Survivors of the 2009 Kilmore Kinglake bushfire have secured the biggest class action settlement in Australian legal history.

At $500 million, the payout is more than double the previous record.

The Black Saturday fire claimed 119 lives and destroyed more than 1,200 properties.

The case against electricity provider SP AusNet and the Victorian Government ended in a settlement this morning.

As Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: The settlement of nearly half a billion dollars is the largest in Australian legal history.

The case against SP AusNet and the Victorian Government began in the Supreme Court in March last year but a final judgment wasn't expected until early 2015.

Andrew Watson is Maurice Blackburn's head of class actions; he believes today's settlement was the best outcome for the 5,000 plaintiffs who were involved.

ANDREW WATSON: Today, nearly five and a half years after the Kilmore East Kinglake bushfire, after a royal commission into the causes and consequences of that fire, and after a trial that lasted 16 months, I can announce that the parties have agreed that, subject to court approval, the class action will be settled for nearly half a billion dollars.

No amount of money will ever compensate those who were affected by the fire for the losses that they suffered, but this settlement of nearly half a billion dollars, represents a measure of justice and some real compensation that will ease the financial burden of their suffering.

ALISON CALDWELL: The fire on February the 7th 2009 killed 119 people, destroyed more than 1,200 homes and caused an estimated $1 billion in damages.

ALISON CALDWELL: Carol Matthews was the lead plaintiff in the case. Her 22-year-old son Sam was killed in the fires and she also lost their home in St Andrews.

CAROL MATTHEWS: The trial has done for many of us what other investigations couldn't. It has held many parties accountable for starting a fire that need never have occurred. It exposed many of the failings that occurred on that day, failings that were very avoidable.

ALISON CALDWELL: The plaintiffs claimed the fire was sparked due to the negligence of energy giant SP AusNet and a power line which collapsed in the fierce conditions on Black Saturday.

SP AusNet has agreed to pay $378 million, but does not accept liability.

The Victorian Government will have to pay $104 million.

Andrew Watson explains.

ANDREW WATSON: So the case was primarily against SP AusNet, the electricity provider, and the allegation that we made in the proceeding was that their negligence led to the fire because, in effect, they had inadequate and insufficient systems in relation to the maintenances of the power line that broke and fell and caused the fire.

ALISON CALDWELL: And what about the State Government and…

ANDREW WATSON: The State Government agencies were brought into the proceeding by SP AusNet and the allegation against them was in relation to warnings and a failure to warn.

ALISON CALDWELL: In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, SP AusNet said its insurers will pay all of its costs. It maintains the fire was caused by a lightning strike.

Andrew Watson rejects that completely.

ANDREW WATSON: A lightning strike caused this fire in the same way that the formation of the Sun created human life on Earth. What we hope is that, regardless of their failure to admit as part of this settlement, they take onboard some of the aspects of the criticisms we made of their procedures and factor those into their future operations.

ALISON CALDWELL: Carol Matthews says she feels she's achieved some sense of justice.

CAROL MATTHEWS: It was absolutely the most important thing for, not just Sam, but the other people that died in the fire, that I wanted there to be a really rigorous investigation, cross-examination from all parties looking at the issues of what went on that day, what could have been done differently, what should have been differently.

I felt it was really important that Sam's death was not just pushed to one side.

ALISON CALDWELL: If the Supreme Court approves the settlement, it will still take up to 18 months to distribute it.

A trial over the Murrindindi Marysville blaze is due to begin later this year.

ELEANOR HALL: Alison Caldwell in Melbourne.