Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP has lost an appeal in a London court seeking to block a 5 billion pound-plus ($6 billion-plus) lawsuit by 200,000 Brazilians over a dam failure that triggered Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.
The Court of Appeal ruled on Friday that the group lawsuit, which is seeking damages for the 2015 disaster and is one of the largest in English legal history, can proceed in English courts.
Senior judges said they had dismissed each application to halt the case.
BHP is now expected to take its appeal to the Supreme Court.
The collapse of the Fundao dam, owned by the Samarco venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining giant Vale, killed 19 people as more than 40 million cubic metres of mud and mining waste swept into the Doce river, obliterating villages in its path, reaching the Atlantic Ocean more than 650km (400 miles) away.
Law firm PGMBM is bringing the case on behalf of Brazilian individuals, businesses, churches, organisations, municipalities and indigenous people such as the Krenak, who depended on the river for water, food and their livelihoods.
The lawsuit is the latest to establish whether multinational companies can be held liable on their home turf for the conduct of overseas subsidiaries, emulating cases brought in London against miner Vedanta and oil giant Shell over alleged pollution and oil spills in Africa.
But the case has had a turbulent start in English courts. It was blocked by both the High Court and, initially, by the Court of Appeal for being “irredeemably unmanageable” before senior judges reversed course last year and agreed to hear the case.
Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.