MUNICH (Reuters) -German industrial inspector TÜV Süd was on Tuesday accused of evading its responsibilities over its alleged role in the 2019 deadly collapse of a dam in Brazil, as Brazilian claimants kicked off the first civil lawsuit in Germany over the disaster.
The municipality of Brumadinho and the family of an engineer killed in the accident allege the company negligently certified the Brumadinho dam in southeastern Brazil, although it did not meet international safety standards.
Four months after the certification, in January 2019, it collapsed and unleashed a tide of waste that killed about 270 people in the country’s deadliest mining disaster.
Lawyers for the claimants said the case represented the chance of adequate reparations to rebuild lives and communities.
“TÜV Süd is shirking its grave responsibility and will not help us rebuild our small municipality,” Avimar Barcelos, the mayor of Brumadinho, told the court.
“They should come (to Brazil) and see what they have done.”
Lawyers for Munich-based TÜV Süd voiced regret over the catastrophe but told the court the company was not liable, noting that Brazil’s Vale, the world’s largest iron ore producer that operated the dam, had agreed to pay damages of 6.0 billion euros ($7 billion).
“It is the operator of the dam who is responsible for its stability,” said Philipp Hanfland, one of TÜV Süd’s lawyers.
Vale was not immediately available for comment.
Jan Spangenberg, representing the claimants along with law firm PGMBM, said access to justice in Brazil could take decades. To date, the federal state of Minas Gerais had handed the district 160,000 euros – and 70% of the sludge had yet to be removed, he said.
The seven claimants, including the parents, three brothers and husband of 30-year-old Vale engineer Izabela Barroso Cãmara Pinto, are demanding around half a million euros in damages from the company. One of her brothers said he was “sad and angry”.
Claimant lawyers say if this case succeeds, about 1,200 other people, who lost family members or were directly affected by the dam failure, could launch follow-on claims that could propel damages to billions of euros.
The next hearing has been scheduled for February 2022.
TÜV Sud, which no longer offers dam safety inspections, and its employees have also faced criminal investigations in Germany and Brazil.
($1 = 0.8537 euros)
($1 = 5.3349 reais)
(Writing and additional reporting by Kirstin Ridley; additional reporting by Clara Denina; editing by Barbara Lewis)