BHP faces multi-billion dollar lawsuit
MINING giant BHP Billiton is facing a £5 billion ($9 billion) lawsuit over the Samarco Dam failure, after an Anglo-American legal firm launched proceedings on the third anniversary of the disaster, which killed 19 people in Brazil.
SPG Law filed the class action suit in the High Court in Liverpool on 5 November on behalf of 240,000 survivors, including several Brazilian municipalities, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mariana and members of the Krenak indigenous community.
It was one of the largest claims ever filed in a British court.
On 5 November 2015, the Fundão tailings dam burst destroyed the village of Bento Rodrigues, along with 1429ha of riparian forest, and caused catastrophic environmental damage to the Rio Doce river basin.
SPG Law partner Glenn Phillips said BHP Billiton PLC was liable for the damage caused by the disaster because Brazil’s laws provided both for strict liability for environmental torts and for parent companies to be liable for the acts and omissions of their subsidiaries.
BHP owned half of Samarco Mineiracao, the dam’s operator, with Brazilian company Vale owning the remaining half.
The three companies had already paid out millions to bankroll compensation and remediation programs.
While the miner had not yet released a statement on the suit, BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie addressed the Samarco Dam failure and the subsequent repair, restoration and construction programs currently being undertaken by the company at its AGM in Adelaide on 8 November.
“Through 2018 we’ve made considerable progress on the recovery and redevelopment of the communities and the eco-system that were affected by the dam failure in 2015,” Mr Mackenzie said.
“There does remain a significant amount of work to do, but we remain determined as ever to do the right thing.”
Mr Mackenzie said all resettlements were expected to be completed by 2020, while Renova, a non-profit organisation established in the wake of the tragedy, had distributed more than 10,000 financial assistance cards.
He said the next 3000ha of a 40,000ha environmental rehabilitation program would be completed in the next calendar year.
BHP was also facing legal action in Australian on behalf of its shareholders.
In August this year, BHP reportedly agreed to settle a US class action claim relating to the dam failure.
The miner agreed to pay plaintiffs $US50 million, though the agreement came with no admission of liability.
Doce River at Barra Longa - Minas Gerais has been rebuilt since the dam collapse.