BHP has been hit with the largest damages claim in British legal history through a group action lawsuit seeking $US5 billion ($7.2 billion) over the 2015 Fundão dam collapse in Brazil.
The full claim, filed at the High Court in Liverpool by SPG Law, seeks damages on behalf of 235,000 Brazilian claimants.
The clients include multiple municipal governments, a church, businesses and members of an Indigenous community.
It also represents 140,000 individuals from the city of Governador Valadares, which had its access to water supply cut off due to the incident.
SPG claims the Anglo-Australian mining giant “knew of the risks” but was “woefully negligent” ahead of the disaster.
The Fundão dam, which is near Mariana in eastern Brazil, is owned by Samarco – BHP’s joint venture with Vale.
Its capacity of 55 million cubic metres was released in the form of iron ore tailings, creating a mudslide that killed 19 people and destroyed nearby villages.
It is claimed that BHP was aware of escalating safety concerns surrounding the integrity of the dam and failed to act upon repeated warnings from experts regarding safety improvements.
Despite principles of safety and sustainability being at the heart of BHP’s charter of values, the lawsuit will claim it pursued profit over environmental risk according to partner at SPG, Tom Goodhead.
“Driven by concern for declining revenues amidst the falling market price of iron ore, the company took risks, increased production and turned a blind eye to dangers that ultimately claimed lives and destroyed communities,” he said.
In a brief statement released by BHP today, the company confirmed the legal proceedings had been filed and that it “intends to defend the claim.”
BHP has four weeks to respond to the claims.