UK court drops $9 billion lawsuit against BHP

Vale then-CEO Fabio Schvartsman in a helicopter overlooking the breach. Image: Vale

The High Court of Manchester has decided not to proceed with a £5 billion ($9 billion) lawsuit against BHP over the Fundão tailings dam failure in Mariana, Brazil five years ago.

The lawsuit was filed by SPG Law which has stated that the victims intend to immediately appeal the High Court decision, adding it will fight the case “for however long it takes”.

After the initial hearing, Justice Mark Turner published the decision refusing to accept jurisdiction for the iron ore tailings dam collapse.

The Fundão tailings dam failure occurred in November 2015 at the Samarco Mariana mining complex which is jointly operated by BHP. The collapse released a torrent of toxic sludge that killed 19 people and contaminated hundreds of miles of Brazilian waterways.

BHP welcomed the decision, describing it as a “strong endorsement” of the company’s position that the matters were already covered by the ongoing work of the Renova Foundation, which was founded in 2016 to compensate victims for the damage caused.

“BHP has been and remains fully committed to continue to do the right thing for the victims for the Fundão dam failure and will continue to support the extensive ongoing remediation and compensation efforts of the Renova Foundation in Brazil,” a BHP spokesperson said.

“This work has already resulted in approximately 10 billion Brazilian real ($25.5 billion) spent on reparation and compensation programs to date and over 320,000 people receiving compensation and financial aid totalling 2.8 billion Brazilian real.

“The decision reinforces that the compensation and remediation schemes in Brazil managed by Renova and supervised by the Brazilian courts are the most appropriate means for individuals and communities to pursue their claims and seek reparation.”

According to SPG Law managing partner Tom Goodhead, the firm had the right to pursue the case against BHP on behalf of the 200,000 claimants.

“BHP has succeeded, once again, in delaying the provision of full redress for the victims of the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history,” Goodhead said.

“We will continue to fight ceaselessly, for however long it takes, in any court in the world to ensure that BHP are held accountable for their actions. We are overwhelmingly confident that it will be overturned.”

The Mayor of Mariana Duarte Junior added that the English courts “must hear their case”, after five years of living with the effects of the dam failure.

“For five long years we have been frustrated, trying to rebuild our lives and communities in the face of the companies who are responsible for the disaster,” Junior said.

“This case represents the hopes and rights of every individual in Mariana and beyond.”

If SPG Law’s appeal is successful and the case is adjudicated in England, it will be the first legal case relating to a major environmental catastrophe in Brazil to be heard in an English court.

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