LONDON (Reuters) – A £ 5.0 billion ($ 6.6 billion) UK lawsuit against British-Australian mining giant BHP has been sued, dealing a blow to the 200,000-strong Brazilian prosecution group demanding compensation after devastating dam damage to in 2015.
A High Court judge in Manchester ruled that managing the largest class action lawsuit in British legal history would be like “trying to build a house of cards in a wind tunnel” and the case being “litigation abuse”.
BHP welcomed the decision, which it said reinforced its view that victims should file claims in Brazil and that the case duplicates ongoing work and legal proceedings there.
Tom Goodhead, the lawyer at PGMBM representing the plaintiffs, called the ruling “fundamentally flawed” and promised to file an appeal.
“We will continue to fight non-stop, for whatever time, in any court in the world, to ensure that BHP is held accountable for their actions,” he said.
The collapse of the Fundao dam, owned by the Samarco joint venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining giant Vale, killed 19 people and sent a torrent of mining waste to the community, the Doce river and the Atlantic Ocean, 650 kilometers (400 miles away. It was a disaster. worst neighborhood in Brazil.
This case is the latest battle to determine whether multinational companies can be held accountable for the behavior of overseas subsidiaries.
The ruling comes about 18 months after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers could sue the UK miner Vedanta on pollution charges in Africa because substantial justice could not be obtained in Zambia.
Leigh Day’s partner, Martyn Day, who represents Zambian villagers, said he took his hat off to the Brazilian plaintiffs’ legal team for “daring” to tackle the big case.
“I think the judge was tough on the plaintiff,” he said. The question for the appellate court is whether he is too tough or not.
Plaintiffs accused senior BHP executives sitting on the Samarco board, that BHP representatives approved plans to repeatedly increase dam capacity, ignored safety warnings, and that victims did not have the prospect of adequate compensation in Brazil within a reasonable timeframe.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, which include municipalities, indigenous peoples, businesses and churches, also argue that under Brazilian law, responsibility for environmental damage falls on the defendant’s final owner.
BHP said it and Vale each poured about $ 1.7 billion into the Renova Foundation, which was set up in 2016 by BHP Brazil’s division, Samarco and Vale to manage 42 repair projects, including providing financial assistance to indigenous families, rebuilding villages and building new water supply system.
($ 1 = 0.7591 pounds)
Reporting by Kirstin Ridley, editing by Barbara Lewis and Rosalba O’Brien