By Thomas Biesheuvel November 9, 2020, 1:07 PM EST
- U.K. judge says dam-collapse case should be heard in Brazil
- Class-action case filed on behalf of 200,000 Brazilians
A British court blocked a 5 billion pound ($6.6 billion) lawsuit brought against BHP Group on behalf of more than 200,000 Brazilians, who were seeking damages for the deadly collapse of a mining dam in 2015.
The court said that there wasn’t enough evidence that the case shouldn’t be pursued in Brazil, and that allowing the case to proceed there and in the U.K. at the same time would lead to “utter chaos.”
“The claimants’ tactical decision to progress closely related damages claims in the Brazilian and English jurisdictions simultaneously is an initiative the consequences of which, if unchecked, would foist upon the English courts the largest white elephant in the history of group actions,” High Court Judge Mark Turner wrote.
The Brazilians were asking British judges for the right to sue BHP, the world’s biggest mining company, in U.K. courts over the collapse of the dam, which killed 19 people. If it had gone ahead, it would be the biggest class action in U.K. history, with the groups seeking a total of 5 billion pounds.
The lawyers for the Brazilians said they would appeal.
“BHP have succeeded, once again, in delaying the provision of full redress for the victims of the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history,” Tom Goodhead, managing partner at the PGMBM law firm, said in an emailed statement.
BHP had argued that the case duplicates legal proceedings in Brazil and shouldn’t be allowed to go ahead.
The company pointed to the Renova Foundation, an out-of-court fund set up to compensate those caught up in the incident.
“The High Court’s decision is a strong endorsement of our position that these proceedings were unnecessary because they duplicated matters already covered by the existing and ongoing work of the Renova Foundation and which are, or have been, the subject of ongoing legal proceedings in Brazil,” BHP said in a statement.
The Fundão Dam was used to store iron-ore tailings, a toxic waste produced during the processing of mined mineral. Its collapse destroyed entire villages, polluted rivers and devastated natural habitats. The facility was run by a company jointly owned by a BHP unit and Vale SA.