BHP Set to Face $7 Billion UK Class Action Over Collapse of a Dam in Brazil

The Fundão Dam collapsed in 2015, unleashing a torrent of mud filled with toxic mine waste and killing 19 people in Mariana, Minas Gerais

A 200,000-strong suit in the UK is demanding $7 billion in damages from BHP, partner of Samarco, the company that owned the dam that destroyed indigenous land in Brazil's Minas Gerais state.
By Jonathan Browning and Katharine Gemmell
July 08, 2022 | 08:33 AM

Bloomberg — UK judges paved the way for a group of more than 200,000 people to bring a suit against BHP Group Ltd. over its role in the deadly collapse of a mining dam in Brazil.

The appeal judges overturned a lower court ruling blocking it from taking place in the UK, saying the trial could provide “a real and legitimate” advantage to the claimants. The group was pushing to sue the mining giant in the UK, seeking at least $7 billion in damages in what would be one of the biggest class actions in the country’s history.

The Fundão Dam collapsed in 2015, unleashing a torrent of mud filled with toxic mine waste and killing 19 people in Mariana, Minas Gerais. The flood destroyed entire villages, polluted rivers and devastated natural habitats.

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BHP had argued that the case duplicates legal proceedings in Brazil and shouldn’t be allowed to go ahead. A lower court sided with the company, and said that allowing the case to proceed in both countries at the same time would lead to “utter chaos.”

The ruling on Friday said the overlap with the Brazilian suit was limited and the Brazilian remedies are “not so obviously adequate that it can be said to be pointless and wasteful to pursue proceedings in this country.”

The judges also said that victims who have already recovered damages only got “very modest sums in respect of moral damages for interruption to their water supply.”

The case has the potential to expand the scope of environmental group litigation in the UK and is likely to be appealed to the country’s top judges at the Supreme Court.

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“This is a monumental judgment that means the victims of the worst environmental disaster ever seen in Brazil are a step closer to justice,” said Tom Goodhead, managing partner of PGMBM, which represents the claimants.

A spokesperson for BHP said the company would review the judgment and consider its next steps, which could include asking the Supreme Court for an appeal.

Also read: Mining Firms Slam Brazil Indigenous Bill in a Sign of ESG Times