BHP could still face $6.6 billion Brazil dam lawsuit
A five-day hearing scheduled to begin on April 4 will help establish whether a 5 billion pound ($6.6 billion) lawsuit against BHP stemming from the 2015 collapse of the Fundao dam in Brazil can be heard in Britain.
Reuters reported that the case was blocked by the English High Court in 2020 and, one year later, by the Court of Appeal, which initially agreed it would be “irredeemably unmanageable.”
But after a last-ditch oral hearing, Court of Appeal judges last July reversed that, stating the case had a “real prospect of success.” The judgement is expected to be reversed, however, the case could be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The collapse of the Fundao dam, owned by the Samarco venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining giant Vale, ranks as Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.
Nineteen were killed and villages obliterated as a torrent of more than 40 million cubic metres of mining waste swept into the Doce river and Atlantic Ocean over 650 km (400 miles) away.
Tom Goodhead, a managing partner at law firm PGMBM, which is bringing the claim on behalf of individuals – including indigenous people – businesses, churches, organizations and municipalities, told Reuters the team was “very confident.”
BHP, the world’s largest mining company by market value, has labelled the case pointless and wasteful, saying it duplicates proceedings in Brazil and the work of the Renova Foundation, an entity created by the company and its Brazilian partners to manage reparations and repairs.
The company says it is fully committed to “doing the right thing” and has paid nearly 9 billion reais ($1.89 billion) in compensation and direct financial aid to over 360,000 people and will have spent roughly 30 billion reais on reparation and compensation programmes by year-end.
Claimant lawyers argue that most clients have not brought proceedings in Brazil or sought compensation that excludes them from English proceedings and that Brazilian litigation is so lengthy it cannot provide full redress in a realistic timeframe.