Three years on from Brumadinho dam disaster TÜV SÜD face €400 million lawsuit

February 1, 2022

On the third anniversary of the Brumadinho dam collapse in Brazil, Pogust Goodhead and Manner Spangenberg lawyers, acting on behalf of victims of the disaster, say the claims filed against German safety regulators TÜV SÜD has now reached over €400million.

This week, the court in Munich has allowed the addition of over 1,100 new Claimants, bringing the value of the case to defendants TÜV SÜD soaring.

The failure of the dam in Brazil on 25 January 2019 meant around 12 million cubic meters of highly toxic ore mud were released, bursting through the offices of the mining operation and cascading over local communities and water systems.

Resulting in the deaths of 270 people, it was the second most significant humanitarian and environmental disaster in Brazil in less than five years.

A landmark case

In this landmark case, Pogust Goodhead, representing the victims, are bringing action against German services firm TÜV SÜD.

TÜV SÜD certified the safety of the dam, which did not meet minimum safety standards, and allowed the continued operation of the dam and mine, which ultimately led to the disaster.

Three years since the collapse, the people of Brumadinho continue to live under a cloud of toxic waste, destroyed villages, and polluted water.

Our case was initiated before the District Court Munich I on TÜV SÜD’s legal doorstep in Germany in October 2019 on behalf of the Municipality of Brumadinho and the family of one victim and has now been expanded to include all Claimants.

Claimants are seeking damages relating to the disaster and a declaratory ruling that TÜV SÜD is obligated to compensate for all further damages related to the disaster – putting the claim in the €400 million range.

Comments from leading lawyers

Pedro Martins, representing the Claimants said: “We’re grateful to the court for now accepting the further 1,100 victims we represent.

“We continue to have full faith in our case and that TÜV SÜD as a company whose role is to certify the safety of this type of business activities will be held liable for the 270 deaths and the destruction of families, livelihoods, communities, and the environment.

“We look forward to bringing our clients closer to justice in 2022.”

The judgement in the case has been postponed from 1 February while the court has granted the joinder and invited the parties to submit further explanations on select issues.

Jan Erik Spangenberg from German law firm Manner Spangenberg has partnered with us on the case. He said: “We are thankful for the Court’s guidance and pleased with the development of the case.

“After the hearing and the post-hearing briefs, the salient factual and legal issues are clear and the case is, in large parts, ripe for a decision. The court’s permission to expand the lawsuit to all Claimants allows hundreds of victims to participate in this landmark case. They demand and deserve a clear determination of responsibility for the loss of their loved ones.”

“Documents show that the dam did not meet minimum safety standards in two out of four categories. It is difficult to understand how TÜV SÜD could disregard these findings,” he continued.

“They knew that the workers would continue to work in the mine and that the people of Brumadinho would continue to go about their everyday life directly below the dam and in the path of the toxic mud wave.”

Case background

On 25 January 2019, a dam at the Córrego do Feijão mine near Brumadinho in eastern Brazil collapsed, resulting in what would later be known as the Brumadinho Dam disaster.

The dam was used to store iron ore tailings, a toxic waste product of the mining operations of Brazilian mining giant Vale SA. The failure of the dam saw 12 million cubic metres of toxic mud tear through the offices of Vale’s mining operation before cascading through the communities below.

As the contracted safety certification partner of Vale for the operation, the claim submits that TÜV SÜD was a “complacent assistant of the mining company”, influenced to certify the dam as safe because they wanted “to keep in business with this important client [Vale]”.

The Claimants submit that there was correspondence between TÜV SÜD employees in May 2018, in which employees inferred TÜV SÜD would lose their business with Vale if they denied the safety of one of the many sedimentation ponds belonging to Vale, indicating pressure from Vale for TÜV SÜD to sign off on the dam’s safety.

It was also found that TÜV SÜD applied safety verification standards that did not match international standards. They used safety standards that were described as ‘market adjustments’, meaning that, compared to international standards, lower safety standards were applied.

Major litigation relating to environmental disasters in Brazil is extremely inefficient. The claim states that the Claimants cannot access adequate justice in Brazil because “the local legal system is totally ineffective, which can lead to decades waiting for a decision”. Neither can they access justice from Vale.

However, TÜV SÜD’s misconduct means they can be held liable in the German courts at their Munich corporate seat to compensate victims for damages under applicable Brazilian Law.

Both German and Brazilian prosecutors have separately been looking into Vale and TÜV SÜD’s roles in the disaster from a criminal perspective. Among those being investigated are a German director of TÜV SÜD who was the manager responsible on the ground in Brazil, and four specialists from the company.

Lawyers expect a round of further written submissions in relation to the recent joinder of over 1,100 Claimants and a new hearing in mid-2022, which is required by German procedural law as a consequence of the joinder.

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