Mining giant BHP Billiton is facing a multibillion-pound lawsuit over the Samarco dam catastrophe in Brazil in one of the largest claims in British legal history.
The class action, which is being handled by SPG Law, counts more than 240,000 claimants including several Brazilian municipalities, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mariana and members of the Krenak indigenous community.
SPG said that it is filing the suit at the High Court in Liverpool because FTSE 100 listed BHP is a UK registered company.
The case is being brought for damages both on behalf of individuals, communities, foundations and indigenous peoples collectively, SPG said on Monday.
SPG Law partner Tom Goodhead said: “Three years on from the tragedy, nearly a million Brazilian citizens affected by the disaster have either not been compensated at all or have received low financial settlements.
“In essence they have been ignored and forgotten. The process of compensation has so far been in the hands of the defendants. This is about putting the claimants in control.”
In 2015, BHP’s Samarco iron-ore mine in the Minas Gerais state in south eastern Brazil saw a dam collapse, killing 19 people and displacing 700.
A torrent of mud unleashed by the burst also wiped out a small village, Bento Rodrigues, and contaminated the Atlantic Ocean.
The deadly stain of red mud, water and debris flowed downstream into the Doce River, where it devastated wildlife and compromised the drinking water source for hundreds of thousands of people.
The stain flowed through the neighbouring Espirito Santo state, before it reached the Atlantic.
BHP has already paid out millions to bankroll compensation and remediation programmes.
It is also facing legal action in Australia on behalf of shareholders.
SPG Law’s US partner Glenn Phillips added: “BHP Billiton PLC are liable for the massive damage caused by the Bento Rodrigues dam disaster because Brazil’s laws provide both for strict liability for environmental torts and for parent companies to be liable for the acts and omissions of their subsidiaries”.