The judge who will decide if a proposed settlement in the class action against the Defence Department for PFAS contamination is fair and reasonable has cautioned about the risks of pursuing litigation rather than settling.
Federal Court justice Michael Lee made the comment after Oakey resident Jennifer Spencer gave an emotional address to the court yesterday where she argued class action members should be compensated for the total amount they had lost as a result of PFAS contamination.
Justice Lee said he was powerless to order the government to increase its offer. Rather, he had to decide if it was in the best interests of class action members to accept the compensation that was on the table.
"It's a responsibility that I feel keenly because I can see from you and from others how devastating this has been to you emotionally and how disappointing it is to have come to the end of the journey and you don't have complete closure because you think you haven't been paid enough money for the suffering you have had," he said.
"It has real risks. You can feel incredibly strongly about how I should be paid every cent that I am entitled to, but it's a brutal business in that there is a winner and a loser. Those experienced in litigation will tell you that sometimes, depending on the amount, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush not only from a money point of view but from an emotional point of view as well."
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"The only thing I would ask you to keep in mind is that if I do decide to approve it it won't be because I don't accept 100 per cent your views that you feel it should be more and that you are going to be disappointed."
Ms Spencer was among 12 class action members from Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine who spoke for and against the proposed settlement.
The court earlier heard that 27 members of the Williamtown class action had written to the court to oppose the settlement, while 11 had written in support of it.
More than 30 residents from Katherine had objected but it was pointed many hundreds of others who had registered had not.
Salt Ash resident Rob Roseworne told the court the proposed settlement was inadequate.
He also restated previous criticisms of the Williamtown class action steering committee and lawyers.
In response, Justice Lee asked Mr Roseworne, why, he had not left the class action.
"There was time in these proceedings where you could make a decision about whether you felt sufficiently strongly, you and these other people who felt the litigation was not being conducted in your interests, to opt out of the proceeding - that is to say, I don't like the people involved in the litigation, I don't like how the funder is conducting itself or how the lawyers are conducting themselves. I want to maintain my claim individually with a group of other people," he said.
"The law gave you that choice and you decided not to go down that path. That generally has some consequences..."
Williamtown steering committee member Cain Gorfine told the court that the vast majority of the members considered the settlement to be justice.
"There is no perfect outcome for PFAS contamination. There is no perfect process but we cannot afford another four years of legal action, mounting legal costs with the risk of getting no outcome whatsoever.
"We were never going to get 100 per cent of our property value back. Never. What we have achieved reflects accurately what is going on in our community no matter how hard that may be for some who have formed a different opinion."
Justice Lee said he hoped to make a final determination in the case today.