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A damages claim faced by global mining firm BHP over a deadly 2015 Brazilian dam collapse has risen to an estimated £36 billion ($44 billion), the legal firm leading the UK class action said on Wednesday.
The bill would be the world's largest-ever claim in relation to an environmental disaster, coming in at more than the combined total paid by VW over Dieselgate and BP over Deepwater Horizon.
The 2015 tragedy unfolded after the rupture of an iron ore tailings dam in the Minas Gerais region, owned by the Samarco joint venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining company Vale.
It resulted in the deaths of 19 people, the flooding of 39 towns, and the polluting of hundreds of kilometres (miles) of river, in one of the worst environmental disasters Brazil has ever seen.
Following several years of preliminary court hearings, the trial at the High Court in London is set to begin April 2024.
Initially, it was estimated up to 400,000 claimants could join the claim.
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But legal firm Pogust Goodhead said that number had now ballooned to over 700,000.
"As a result of the unprecedented increase in the number of participants in the class action making it the world's largest..., Pogust Goodhead has now produced detailed calculations showing the potential compensation bill to be £36 billion when including interest," the legal firm said.
The bill "stands in stark contrast to the £2.8 billion BHP has ring-fenced to cover their liability for the disaster," it added.
Pogust Goodhead filed the class action lawsuit as those affected by the disaster say they have still not received full compensation from BHP.
The law firm's chief executive Tom Goodhead said it was "unfathomable" that BHP has failed to warn investors about the true extent of the potential liabilities the company faces.
"As a result of continued attempts to frustrate justice, they (BHP) have now landed themselves and their investors with financial liabilities multiples higher than they should have been and have prolonged the agony for the victims," he added.
BHP responded that it "will continue to defend the UK group action and denies the claims in their entirety".
"BHP's view remains that this action is unnecessary as it duplicates matters already covered by the existing and ongoing work of the Renova Foundation... and other legal proceedings in Brazil," it told AFP in a statement.
"The addition of new claimants does not change the purpose of hearing scheduled for April 2024, which will address certain liability issues."
It added: "The UK claim is at a preliminary stage with full details of claim yet to be provided and no damages quantified for most of the claims.
"Our financial statements appropriately disclose a contingent liability in relation to the UK action."
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