Ardent Leisure settles Dreamworld tragedy shareholder class action for $26m

Ardent Leisure settles Dreamworld tragedy shareholder class action for $26m

Photo: Steel Taipan at Dreamworld, via Facebook.

A class action that alleged Ardent Leisure (ASX: ALG) misled shareholders about safety measures and governance at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast ahead of the 2016 Thunder River Rapids Ride tragedy has settled for $26 million, with no admission of liability from the theme park operator.

The all-inclusive payment to applicants represents around 10 per cent of the $260 million in losses for shareholders in the wake of incident, which claimed four lives and eventually led to a $3.6 million fine for the group after it pleaded guilty to three charges over breaches of the QLD Work Health and Safety Act (2011).

Law firm Piper Alderman filed its class action against Ardent in June 2020, around one month before the Queensland Work Health and Safety Prosecutor filed its charges against the group.

Coronial Inquest found the incident which caused the deaths of Katie Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Cindy Low and Roozbeh Araghi was the result of a "systemic failure" at Dreamworld, amidst a recurring theme of "general ignorance of proper safety and adequate assessments" as well as "shoddy" record keeping.

In late 2022, The Guardian reported that Ardent had agreed to pay $2.15 million to the family of victim Cindy Low, and had paid $5 million since 2020 to other family members of victims as well as emergency responders and witnesses.

Piper Alderman believed the findings of Coroner James McDougall supported its allegations, which also included the claim that Ardent's conduct caused the share price to be artificially inflated over more than two years in the lead-up to the disaster, between 17 June 2014 and 25 October 2016.

The claim was funded by Woodsford and run by Piper Alderman’s litigation partner out of the firm's Brisbane office.

Ardent will incur a one-off cost of approximately $4 million in connection with the settlement, which will be registered as an expense in its FY24 accounts. The remainder of the settlement balance is fully insured.

"The Ardent board determined that the commercial decision to settle the shareholder class action that had been ongoing for over three years was one made in the best interests of the company and its shareholders," the company said.

Last month Ardent reported its revenues were now running above pre-COVID levels at $83.9 million, highlighting expectations to report the group's first earnings positive result in six years this Friday, 25 August.

Operating revenue for the last two months of FY23 was up 21 per cent year-on-year, even though there was a slight moderation in attendance volumes during the June half.

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