Brazil-based iron ore mining company Vale has had a R$20bn ($5.7bn) civil lawsuit dismissed that was filed against it, BHP Billiton and Samarco, seeking damages for the Samarco mine disaster caused by a burst dam.

Samarco operates the mine and is a joint venture between Vale and BHP.

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The public civil action was filed at Vara Federal of Rio de Janeiro by Sohumana Sociedade Humanitária Nacional (Sohumana) against the three companies in December last year following the bursting of a tailings dam at Samarco’s Germano mine the previous month. At least 17 people are believed to have been killed and 50 people injured as a result of the incident.

The action sought compensation for environmental and proprietary damages resulting from the burst Samarco Fundão taillings dam, near the city of Mariana, Minas Gerais state.

"Samarco, BHP and Vale agreed to pay the Brazilian Government around $6bn in compensation over 15 years to cover damages and repairs."

Vale claimed that the judge did not rule on the merits of the civil case.

In March, Samarco, BHP and Vale agreed to pay the Brazilian Government around $6bn in compensation over 15 years to cover damages and repairs. This was approved by a Brazilian judge last month.

The Fundao dam is located close to the Gualaxo do Norte river, and released an estimated 60 million cubic meters of mine waste into the town of Bento Rodrigues and nearby water sources when it burst. The spill was estimated to be the equivalent of 20,000 Olympic swimming pools and reportedly spread 400 miles into rivers and out to the ocean.

Earlier this month, Brazilian Police accused Samarco of cutting safety expenditure before the disaster.

A further $44bn lawsuit has been filed against the companies by federal prosecutors from the states of Minas Gerais and neighbouring Espírito Santo.