The fallout from the hotel quarantine fiasco is likely to end up in court with a leading class action firm already in discussion with businesses over a potential law suit.
The firm, Phi Finney and McDonald, said it had fielded inquiries by companies that have been hit hard during the second wave of coronavirus and associated lockdowns.
Managing director Ben Phi said that lawyers were now investigating the prospect of taking on the state government, which had “acknowledged that mistakes were made”.
“The evidence suggests that quarantine failures led to the second wave and all of the devastating personal and financial consequences that have followed,” he said.
“We have been approached by Victorian businesses who are interested in pursuing a class action. We are investigating the situation and following the evidence as it unfolds in the inquiry.”
An inquiry into the hotel quarantine scheme, led by former Family Court judge Jennifer Coate, is probing failures that led to COVID-19 infections being spread between guests and security guards and into the community.
Allegations include that some guards in hotels were poorly trained and mingled with returned travellers, that guests were allowed out against protocols, and that limited infectious disease controls were in place.
The worst clusters that stemmed from breaches of the scheme included at Rydges Hotel on Swanston St and the Stamford Plaza in the CBD.
Dozens of COVID-19 cases were linked back to those hotels, according to genomic sequencing by health officials.
Premier Daniel Andrews recently conceded that the second wave Victoria was confronting in its battle against coronavirus was largely attributable to problems with the hotel scheme.
Director of the Centre for Corporate Law at the University of Melbourne, Professor Ian Ramsay, said class actions against governments were relatively rare, but that there were some recent examples under way.
These included the robodebt case, which is aimed at the federal government for issuing incorrect Centrelink debt notices.
“We are seeing more cases where the government is the defendant,” Prof Ramsay said.
“One couldn’t predict any possible outcome … but given the current environment for class actions I am not at all surprised to hear there’s interest in this.”
Prof Ramsay said it made sense for law firms to look at the findings of the state inquiry into the hotel quarantine scheme before embarking on potential action, in a similar way to lawyers considering findings from ASIC investigations in corporate law cases.
Mr Phi said the capacity to run an action had been hampered by recent federal government regulations, which treated clients as “investors in a managed investment scheme who are trying to make a profit rather than obtain compensation for the incredible losses that have been suffered”.
“These regulations will increase costs, and it’s the Prime Minister’s own ‘Quiet Australians’ that will pay the price,” he said.
The inquiry into the hotel quarantine scheme is set to run until November.