Page 3427 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 21 September 2005

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damage claims, it remained at six. That was in response to the insurance crisis. The time limit for non-personal injury claims, such as property damage, remained at six years.

Unless the law dealing with the statute of limitation is changed, the victims of the bushfires might well be disadvantaged further by the long drawn out saga of the coronial inquiry, thanks mainly to the lengthy appeal processes, which have delayed it for probably a further 12 months. The government has ruled out any commitment to not pursuing unsuccessful plaintiffs for costs in relation to actions before the court. I can understand where the government is coming from there.

This means that people need to consider very seriously whether they will take legal action. As Keith Baker said in the same WIN interview on 9 September, “We are putting our own house at risk a second time, not from the flames this time, but from legal costs if we decide to go ahead and then lose the action.” Bushfire victims, despite having suffered significant losses, are reluctant to take action when the coronial inquiry is still proceeding and face the possibility that they may lose their homes twice, once in the bushfires, for which at least most were insured, and again in the courts, for which there would be no insurance.

Whether or not they do decide to take legal action, it is only just that people who have suffered so much already should have their legal rights protected. It seems to the opposition that, as the full coronial process may still not be completed by the end of the statute of limitation period, which, as I said, on my reading will be 1 July 2006, bushfire victims should have time to consider taking legal action.

The coronial inquest has gone on much longer than I think anyone anticipated and my bill would enable people who suffered personal injuries from the bushfires—and “personal injuries” mean physical injuries and mental harm, ably catered for in the acts—to commence any action up to 28 January 2009. This would give time, one would hope, for the coronial process to be finished and for people to consider their position. This would bring people’s ability to make personal injury claims into line with non-personal injury claims, such as property claims. The time limit for non-personal injury claims, which includes property damage, would remain at six years under this amendment.

My bill does not seek to make any changes to the definition of personal injuries. They are already well defined by law. It seeks to amend the Limitation Act by inserting a proposed new section 16C. For members’ benefit, section 16 deals with compensation to relatives, which does not apply here. Section 16A deals with compensation claims for workers and would apply to anyone deemed to be a worker during the bushfires who suffered injuries. Section 16B would cover all other personal injuries and would cover all other persons who suffered injuries due to the bushfires.

Proposed new section 16C would, by virtue of subsection (1), extend the course of action under sections 16A and 16B from three years to six years. Subsection (2) states that in this section the stipulated period for the January 2003 bushfires and any relevant fires in the ACT as a result of that started on 18 January 2003 and ended on 28 January 2003. That is consistent with the definition in the Land (Planning and Environment) (Bushfire Emergency) Regulation 2003.

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