The Samarco Dam disaster in Brazil has just come back to bite BHP Billiton with a new lawsuit. The multi-billion pound claim is thought to be one of the largest suits ever filed in British legal history.
Located in southeastern Brazil, the Samarco iron ore mine suffered a catastrophic dam burst in 2015, leading to 19 fatalities. More than 700 people were also displaced when the deluge of mud containing waste from the mine surged into a nearby village, flattening most of the buildings.
The toxic red mudslide then contaminated the regional water supply for hundreds of thousands of people, pouring into the Doce River where it killed wildlife and ruined the drinking water across Espirito Santo state. The aftereffects are thought to have impacted the lives of approximately 1 million people.
Samarco is jointly owned by BHP Billiton and Brazil’s Vale. To date, the aftermath of the disaster has already cost both the miners several million dollars in compensation and remediation to local people in Brazil.
Over 3,000 investors also lodged their own legal action in the Federal Court of Australia, seeking to recover losses. In the months after the catastrophe, BHP’s share price plummeted by over 20% in both Australia and the UK, reducing the market cap by a whopping £14 billion. The Australian lawsuit alleges there was insufficient disclosure over the risk of a dam failure, and therefore the company’s safety statements misled stock market investors.
However, critics have argued that after 3 years, most of the Brazilian people directly affected by the tragedy have been ignored, some receiving only small financial settlements or even nothing at all.
In what could be the biggest claim ever filed in Britain, over 240,000 people have now launched a class-action lawsuit against BHP. UK law firm SPG Law explains they filed the lawsuit at the High Court in Liverpool because BHP is a FTSE 100 company. The suit seeks $44 billion in damages on behalf of individuals, foundations, entire communities, indigenous tribes, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mariana, and even several town councils.
BHP has vowed to defend itself robustly against the case.