BHP set to face $12 billion UK suit over Brazil dam disaster

Rescuers in Brumardinho, Brazil, following the collapse of the dam at the Corrego do Feijão iron ore mine. Photo by Diego Baravelli, Wikimedia Commons.

A UK judge set a trial date of April 2024 for a case against BHP Group over a Brazilian mining-waste disaster, with claimants seeking an estimated £10 billion ($12 billion).

An eight-week hearing is scheduled to proceed almost nine years after a dam collapse unleashed a torrent of waste, killing 19 and polluting waterways in two Brazilian states.

Read more: Brazil charges 21 people with homicide in Samarco disaster

“Given the scale and nature of the litigation, it is not surprising that there have been challenges, appeals and changes to the claims,” Judge Finola O’Farrell wrote in a judgment published Wednesday. “However, it is now time to avoid further delay and make substantive progress in determining the dispute.”

Current and former executives of London-listed BHP will face cross examination regarding their roles in the disaster, according to Pogust Goodhead, the firm leading the case on behalf of more than 400,000 Brazilian claimants. It will be the largest group litigation in English civil court history, the firm estimates.

BHP said in an email the hearing will not consider any compensation payment and that there has been no decision regarding BHP’s alleged liability or whether and when there will be any determination of payments to plaintiffs.

“BHP fully refutes the claims made by the English plaintiffs and will continue to defend itself in the case, which we believe is unnecessary as it duplicates issues already covered by the existing and ongoing work of the Renova Foundation — under the supervision of the Brazilian courts — or are objects of legal proceedings in progress in Brazil,” the company said.

BHP recently requested that Brazilian miner Vale SA share liability should it lose the UK class action lawsuit. The case doesn’t name Vale even though the dam was run by Samarco, a joint-venture between the two mining companies. Vale said its legal advisers will carefully consider details and submit their response in the appropriate time and manner.

(By Mariana Durao, with assistance from Thomas Biesheuvel and Upmanyu Trivedi)

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