Australian horse owners, trainers and racing clubs sued the federal government, claiming its negligence caused a 2007 equine influenza outbreak that devastated the industry.
The lawsuit, filed today in Federal Court of Australia in Sydney by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, seeks unspecified damages for more than 550 clients in the industry. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment, and a spokesman declined to comment or be identified, citing government policy.
“There are still many hundreds of people struggling to recover from the financial losses they suffered in 2007,” Damian Scattini, a class-action lawyer at Maurice Blackburn, said in an e-mailed statement. “There were systemic failures across Australia’s quarantine system.”
Australia quarantined animals, canceled racing meetings and banned the movement of horses in 2007 after the H3N8 virus was detected. “Serious and systemic failures” in the nation’s quarantine system resulted in the spread of the virus, Ian Callinan, a former High Court Justice, wrote in a 2008 report.
The virus probably entered Australia in August 2007 with horses from Japan, and was likely spread through contaminated people or equipment leaving Eastern Creek Quarantine Station in Sydney, Tony Burke, Australia’s Agriculture Minister, said after the release of Callinan’s report.
Eastern Creek was the only quarantine station in New South Wales, according to a statement of claim filed by the plaintiffs. The federal government, as the operator, breached its duty by failing to exercise reasonable care to prevent the virus from spreading, according to the court filing.
The plaintiffs’ damages will probably be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Scattini said in a phone interview today.
“The losses range from significant to huge,” he said, declining to give a specific amount.
Australia spent more than A$342 million ($339 million) eradicating the virus and providing financial assistance to businesses and people affected as of 2008, Burke said at the time.
The case is Clasul Pty v. Commonwealth of Australia. NSD368/2013. Federal Court of Australia (Sydney).