BHP Group (BHP.AX) has lost an appeal in a London court attempting to stop a 5 billion pound ($6 billion) lawsuit filed by 200,000 Brazilians over a dam rupture in 2015 that caused Brazil’s greatest environmental catastrophe.

The Court of Appeal overruled prior judgements on Friday, in what claimant attorneys called as a “monumental judgment” and declared that the collective litigation, one of the biggest in English legal history, may continue in English courts.

“The days of huge corporations doing what they want in countries on the other side of the world and getting away with it are over,” said Tom Goodhead, managing partner of legal firm PGMBM, which represents Brazilian individuals, businesses, churches, towns, and indigenous people to Reuters.

BHP, the world’s biggest mining firm by market capitalization, said it would explore filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.

The Fundao dam collapse, owned by the Samarco joint venture of BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining giant Vale (VALE3.SA), killed 19 people as more than 40 million cubic meters of mud and mining waste swept into the Doce river, obliterating villages and reaching the Atlantic Ocean more than 650 kilometers (400 miles) away.

The lawsuit is the latest to test whether multinational corporations can be held liable on their home turf for the actions of their overseas subsidiaries, following in the footsteps of cases brought in London against miner Vedanta and oil giant Shell (SHEL.L) over alleged pollution and oil spills in Africa.

BHP has slammed the action as unnecessary and costly, claiming that it repeats legal processes and restoration and rehabilitation programs in Brazil, which are already expected to cost over 30 billion reais ($5.6 billion) by the end of the year.

However, claimant attorneys say that since most clients have not launched actions in Brazil or sought compensation, they are ineligible for English procedures, and that Brazilian litigation is too protracted to offer complete redress in a reasonable timescale.

The lawsuit had a rocky start because it was halted by both the High Court and, originally, the Court of Appeal for being “irredeemably unmanageable” more info

However, top justices warned on Friday that a future trial might provide claimants with a “real and legitimate advantage”

In the absence of a settlement, liability and any damages judgment will be resolved at subsequent trials.

Source: Reuters


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