BHP Billiton & Vale lawsuit (re dam collapse in Brazil)

Brazil dams disaster_credit_Antonio Cruz Agencia Brasil_

Proceedings in Brazil

On 5 November 2015, two mining dams operated by Samarco Mineração SA, a joint venture of Vale and BHP Billiton, collapsed in Brazil releasing 50 million cubic meters of toxic iron-ore residue.  The residue destroyed the nearby district of Bento Rodrigues killing 19 and polluting the water supply of hundreds of thousands of residents.  Two weeks later, Samarco signed a $262 million agreement with the Brazilian Government to fund mitigation and remedial measures for the environmental disaster. 

On 2 March 2016, Samarco reached a heavily criticized $6 billion settlement to restore the severely damaged environment and indemnify the affected communities.  Andrew Mackenzie, CEO Of BHP Billiton stated, “This agreement is an important step in supporting the long-term recovery of the affected communities and the environment.”  However, Brazilian prosecutors insisted the deal did not guarantee proper cleanup and damages because the affected populations were not included in settlement talks.  On 3 May 2016, the prosecutors filed a $44 billion civil lawsuit in Brazil for cleanup and restoration costs.  On 16 March 2017, a judge suspended the lawsuit to facilitate the negotiations of a settlement between the government and the companies.  The partial agreement also calls for groups of experts to carry out environmental and social impact studies, and evaluate recovery programs.  On 25 June 2018, Vale and BHP Billiton announced they signed a deal with Brazilian authorities that settles a USD 5.3 billion lawsuit related to the 2015 dam collapse.  The agreement also sets a two-year timeline to reach a settlement in a separate lawsuit filed in May 2016 which will be put on hold while the parties negotiate.  On 2 October 2018, Brazilian prosecutors announced that they reached a final compensation deal with Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton, which includes compensation payments for relatives of the 19 people killed in the disaster and to those who lost their properties. The amount has not been disclosed.

On 20 October 2016, Brazilian federal prosecutors filed homicide charges against 21 people, including top executives of BHP Billiton, Vale and Samarco, for the 19 deaths resulting from the dam collapse. In July 2017, the federal court suspended the criminal case.  Samarco's lawyers claim illicit evidence was used to build the case against the company's executives.

Proceedings in Australia

In May 2018, shareholders filed a lawsuit against BHP Billiton in Australia, alleging that the company misled them as it was aware of the safety risks prior to the disaster, but failed to take any action to prevent it.  In August 2018, the company settled a similar lawsuit filed by US shareholders, agreeing to a $67 mln. compensation without admitting liability.

In December 2018, an Australian judge allowed the Phi Finney McDonald shareholder class action to proceed, and stayed rival lawsuits from Maurice Blackburn and Johnson Winter & Slattery.

Proceedings in the UK

In November 2018, more than 240,000 plaintiffs, including Brazilian municipalities and Krenak indigenous communities, filed a lawsuit at the UK High Court in Liverpool against BHP Billiton. The lawsuit seeks compensation for damages caused by the dam collapse.

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+ Português - Hide

Author: Léo Rodrigues, Agência Brasil (Brazil)

“Pescadores fecham ferrovia após aval para Samarco mudar indenização”,15 de janeiro de 2019

Centenas de pescadores bloqueiam...[a]...estrada de ferro que liga o estado Minas Gerais ao Espírito Santo. Eles protestam contra a decisão da Justiça Federal de legitimar um entendimento da mineradora Samarco que afetará a indenização a ser paga aos atingidos da tragédia de Mariana (MG). O ato ocorre na altura da cidade de Baixo Guandu (ES)...[A]...ferrovia foi escolhida como alvo do protesto porque é operada pela Vale, uma das acionistas da Samarco...[A]urindo Alves, pescador de Linhares (ES)...[:]...["E]stá muito difícil. Provocaram uma tragédia nacional e agora não querem arcar com as consequências". Em nota...[:]...["A]...Vale reforça que a paralisação de ferrovia é crime e coloca em risco a segurança de passageiros, empregados e terceiros”...[A]...pesca segue restrita em diversos municípios mineiros e capixabas da bacia do Rio Doce. A maioria dos pescadores ainda não conseguiu retomar integralmente suas atividades profissionais e recebem, todos os meses, um auxílio financeiro emergencial. Conforme o novo entendimento apresentado pela Samarco, e aceito pelo juiz Mário Franco Júnior, em decisão liminar, esses valores poderão agora ser descontados da indenização....

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26 December 2018

Australia: Shareholder class action against BHP to proceed following Samarco dam catastrophe

Author: AAP,

"Single BHP Samarco class action to proceed", 18 December 2018

Phi Finney McDonald has won the right to pursue a shareholder class action against BHP related to the Samarco dam catastrophe, beating two other law firms vying for the case.

Federal Court judge Mark Moshinsky...ruled the case could go ahead and stayed rival proceedings from Maurice Blackburn and Johnson Winter & Slattery.

The class action revolves around the 20 per cent fall in BHP shares that followed the 2015 disaster, when a dam wall collapsed at its Samarco joint venture in Brazil, killing 19 people and causing widespread environmental damage.

Justice Moshinsky preferred the funding model of Phi Finney McDonald, which details 18 per cent of any winnings would go to US-based backer G&E KTMC Funding.

This compared to a 15 per cent take from the self-funded Maurice Blackburn model and a complex sliding scale allowing up to 21.5 per cent to the funders of the JWS claim.

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Company response
14 December 2018

Vale response

Author: Vale

Vale understands that the deal mentioned above is the agreement signed in October with the State Prosecution Office of Mina Gerais, which terminated the main lawsuit related to the dam collapse in Mariana and enabled the retake of the Mediated Indemnification Program (PIM) for the community affected in that region, based on the damage matrix used by the Renova Foundation along the River Doce watershed. Henceforth, the Renova Foundation may present compensation proposals to those affected by the dam collapse and discuss their legitimacy and amounts due to each one. Regarding to the lawsuit filed against BHP Billiton before the UK High Court in Liverpool, Vale clarifies that the company is not a defendant in the suit.

22 November 2018

BHP prepares for UK legal battle over 2015 Brazil dam failure

Author: Kirstin Ridley, Barbara Lewis, Reuters

Mining giant BHP says it will fight an unprecedented English lawsuit filed by hundreds of thousands of Brazilians for multi-billion pound damages over Brazil’s worst environmental disaster...It looks set to be the largest group action heard in England...

“BHP will defend the action and remains committed to supporting the remediation and compensation efforts of the Renova Foundation,” a spokesman said...

SPG says it is working with 600 lawyers and law firms in Brazil and is bringing the case in England in part because a 200 pound ($259) settlement offer two years ago by the Renova Foundation to those who had their water disrupted was “inadequate”.  It wants to bring the case against BHP and subsidiaries in Brazil, the United States and Panama using Brazil’s tough environmental law, that can hold companies liable for repairing damage or compensating victims irrespective of fault or intent.  “The key issue at the heart of this case is whether the parent company, BHP, is liable as a matter of Brazilian law,” says SPG lawyer Tom Goodhead...

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19 November 2018

Vale & BHP Billiton ask 39 Brazilian municipalities to withdraw lawsuits over Samarco dam collapse; propose settlement

Author: Lise Alves, The Rio Times

"Samarco Offers Millions to Brazil to Drop Dam-Break Lawsuits", 16 Nov 2018

Thirty-nine municipalities in the states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo have been offered R$53 million to withdraw lawsuits against Samarco and its main shareholders, Brazil’s Vale and Anglo-Australian giant BHP Billiton, including those filed in the United Kingdom, according to government news agency Agencia Brasil...The Renova Foundation, is the entity created by Vale, BHP Billiton and Samarco to manage the payment and repair of all damages caused in the Rio Doce Basin, after the Samarco dam break in 2015....“A lot of people were indirectly affected [by the spill] and no one is taking responsibility. “The entire population depends on the city’s public services which has also been affected,” stated Mariana’s mayor Duarte Junior to reporters covering the third anniversary of the disaster last week...

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6 November 2018

BHP Billiton facing £5bn lawsuit from Brazilian victims of dam disaster

Author: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian

The worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history has triggered one of the biggest legal claims ever filed in a British court.  The Anglo-Australian mining company BHP Billiton is being sued for about £5bn by Brazilian victims of the Samarco dam collapse in Mariana three years ago.  The class action case was filed in the Liverpool high court...on behalf of 240,000 individuals, 24 municipal governments, 11,000 businesses, a Catholic archdiocese and about 200 members of the Krenak indigenous community...

It emerged that the company had accurately predicted the risks in a worst-case assessment made six months earlier.  Prosecutors charged senior executives of the dam operator Samarco Mineração with homicide and accused its parent companies – Vale and BHP Billiton – of environment damage.  A civil case has been filed in Brazilian courts, but the plaintiffs believe they have more chance to get fair and speedy compensation in Britain...

If jurisdiction in the UK is accepted, the lawsuit is likely to raise the international profile of the case.  The first hearing would be next summer and the case could last two to five years.  Representatives from the affected communities will be called to testify in Liverpool along with expert witnesses...

BHP Billiton has yet to respond to a request for a comment, but in previous statements to the Guardian, Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton said they rejected the charges...

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5 November 2018

BHP Facing Multibillion-Pound Class Action Over Samarco Disaster

Author: Morningstar

Mining giant BHP Billiton PLC 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... 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...

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3 October 2018

Brazil: Prosecutors say final compensation deal with Vale & BHP Billiton reached re 2015 dam collapse

Author: Reuters

Brazilian prosecutors in Minas Gerais state said...they reached a final compensation deal with mining companies Samarco, Vale...and BHP Billiton regarding a 2015 dam burst, Brazil’s largest ever environmental disaster. According to a statement from prosecutors...the deal allows for compensation payments to start to relatives of the 19 people killed in the disaster, as well as to people who lost their houses and other properties. No financial details of the deal were disclosed in the short statement on Tuesday, but the chief prosecutor in the city of Mariana will hold a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the agreement. Brazil’s worst environmental catastrophe happened when a dam designed to hold back mine waste from the Samarco iron pellets operation in Mariana burst, leaving a trail of destruction for hundreds of kilometers in Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo states. Another deal had been reached by the mining companies and prosecutors in regions hit by the disaster away from Mariana, where victims found that offer insufficient. With this last settlement, companies might be able to prepare to resume operations in the region more than two years after the accident


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20 September 2018

BHP seeks approval for $50m US pact over fatal Brazil dam burst

Author: Reuters

BHP Billiton Ltd has asked a U.S. judge to approve a $50 million settlement of claims that it fraudulently inflated its share price by overstating its ability to manage safety risks before a fatal 2015 dam burst at a Brazilian mine...It would resolve shareholder claims stemming from the Nov. 5, 2015 bursting of the Fundão dam in Minas a mine run by Samarco, a joint venture between BHP and Brazil’s Vale SA...BHP denied wrongdoing in settling with investors...

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Author: Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens-MAB (Brazil)

"Nota Pública: Juiz do caso Samarco – espetáculos, manobras e violação de direitos civis e políticos", 10 de agosto de 2018
...[Em 8 de agosto]...a Justiça e empresas...Samarco/Vale/BHP realizaram...verdadeiro espetáculo ao qual foi dado o nome Sessão Solene de Conciliação, no Prédio da Justiça Federal, em Belo Horizonte. Com a participação dos advogados das empresas, órgãos públicos federais e dos estados do Espírito Santo e Minas Gerais, a "conciliação" de mais um documento jurídico orientador da reparação dos danos causados com rompimento da Barragem de Fundão foi firmada sem a participação dos atingidos...Na ocasião, o juiz titular da 12ª Vara Federal de Minas Gerais Mário de Paula Franco Júnior homologou o TAC Governança, que define alterações na governança da Renova justamente com a intenção de garantir a participação dos atingidos nos processos decisórios. O Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens-MAB já publicou em nota as críticas ao documento...Ainda na sessão, o mesmo juiz apresentou, sem qualquer anuncio anterior, suas ressalvas para o Termo Aditivo ao TAP,...debatido amplamente e construído em conjunto com a população da Bacia do Rio Doce. Tal termo dispõe sobre o diagnóstico do meio socioeconômico e a contratação das Assessorias Técnicas, maior vitória conquistada pelos atingidos do crime da Samarco/Vale/BHP...O juiz entendeu que vários critérios do Termo Aditivo, principalmente no aspecto da Assessoria Técnica, eram insuficientes para a "condução do processo"...[N]ovos pontos determinam que "fica expressamente vedada" a vinculação político-partidária, à movimentos sociais, ong e entidades religiosas no processo de escolha das entidades que devem prestar a Assessoria Técnica...[T]ais ressalvas se tratam de uma restrição, que pode ser entendida como uma restrição aos direitos civis e políticos dos envolvidos no processo, inclusive dos atingidos. Estes requisitos só foram colocados pelo Juiz para as Assessorias Técnicas, que servem diretamente aos interesses dos atingidos. Caso esta mesma regra fosse aplicada a todos os envolvidos na reparação dos danos causados pelo Crime, seria inviabilizada a participação de muitas das entidades e técnicos que atuam nas empresas, na Fundação e as consultorias inclusive o Presidente do Conselho Curador da RENOVA Wilson Brumer (mais alto posto da Fundação) que é conhecidamente envolvido com atividades político-eleitorais e partidárias...

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