Mining giants BHP and Vale will appear in front of the UK High Court this week amid an ongoing class lawsuit for their role in the 2015 collapse of the Fundão dam in the east of Brazil. The lawsuit could see the companies fined up to $44bn.  

UK and Australia-based BHP is fighting for Brazilian miner Vale to be a co-defendant in the case. BHP claims that any fine should be split between the two companies. Samarco, a joint venture between BHP and Vale, operated the dam. 

More than 700,000 claimants who were affected by the collapse have bought the case forward. The claimants are being represented by the legal firm Pogust Goodheed. 

This is the largest lawsuit of its kind, with 46 Brazilian municipalities and indigenous groups also joining the case. 

This is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed in Brazil, Australia and the UK resulting from the dam collapse.  

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The Germano iron ore mine disaster triggered an environmental and humanitarian disaster in Brazil. Around 40 million cubic metres of tailings were released during the collapse. The resulting flood killed 19 people, destroyed entire villages and polluted 634km of the River Doce. 

A review of the dam failure was conducted in 2016. The conditions necessary for liquefaction, where wet soil can turn into liquid, were found to be present before the collapse. 

Vale is also being sued in Brazil for the dam collapse. 

Finalisation of UK lawsuit   

“BHP Brasil remains fully committed to supporting the extensive ongoing remediation and compensation efforts in Brazil,” the company said in a statement. 

Following the disaster, both companies set up the Renova Foundation, which seeks to pay reparations for victims of the disaster. 

“The Renova Foundation has spent R$28.1 billion (approximately US$5.9 billion) on comprehensive remediation and compensation programs to 31 December 2022. This includes over R$13.5 billion (over US$2.6 billion) paid in indemnities and emergency financial assistance to approximately 410,000 people,” BHP added. 

Tom Goodhead, Pogust Goodhead’s CEO, says that this is not enough. BHP has “landed themselves and their investors with financial liabilities multiples higher than they should have been and have prolonged the agony for the victims. BHP’s handling of the Mariana dam disaster has been a textbook case of corporate wrongdoing,” he said in a statement

Last year, London judges blocked a lower court ruling that sought to stop the hearing from taking place in the UK. BHP, which is UK listed, had argued that the case duplicates legal proceedings in Brazil. The main trial is set for 9 April 2024. 

BHP has not yet responded to Mining Technology’s request for comment.