Samarco Faces $2.62 Billion Civil Case for Mining Accident

  • Lawyer from Bahia state filed case in Minas Gerais court
  • Dams burst Nov. 5 and polluted the main river in the region

A BHP Billiton Ltd and Vale SA joint venture in Brazil is facing its first civil lawsuit after a dam collapse on Nov. 5 that buried a town and contaminated the region’s main river.

Pedro Eduardo Pinheiro Silva, a lawyer who represents a community association in another state, filed the case on Monday, according to the Minas Gerais court website. He’s demanding Samarco Mineracao SA pay 10 billion reais ($2.62 billion) as compensation for environmental damages, he said in a telephone interview.

Tailings dams run by Samarco burst and unleashed a torrent into a valley below, killing at least 11 people and halting fresh water supplies for at least 260,000 people. The wave of mud that destroyed homes in Minas Gerais state contaminated the Rio Doce river with a mix of ground rock and water left over from mining activity, and threatens drinking water and wildlife in neighboring Espirito Santo state.

BHP and Vale are assisting with rescue efforts, providing aid to victims and making sure the area is safe again, both companies have said. While operating permits have been temporarily suspended, both owners say they are committed to restoring the venture. Deutsche Bank AG said cleanup costs could exceed $1 billion, and it may be years before the site reopens.

Silva, who is based in Bahia, said that Brazilian law allows him to file a case in another state. The judge assigned to the case is Rosilene Sousa Ferreira, and the case number is 0060017-58.2015.4.01.3800, according to the court website.

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