(Adds details of court rulings, Vale comment, background)
RIO DE JANEIRO, March 16 (Reuters) - Brazilian iron ore miner Vale SA said on Thursday that a federal court in Minas Gerais has suspended a case brought by prosecutors seeking 155 billion reais ($49.7 billion) in damages for the 2015 Samarco mine disaster.
Vale said in a securities filing the court suspended other lawsuits to facilitate negotiation of a final deal on damages resulting from the collapse of a tailings dam at the mine - a joint venture between Vale and the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton Ltd.
Vale said the court’s decisions were aimed at unifying the lawsuits to avoid contradictions and help the parts reach a settlement.
“This is an important decision that recognizes the complexity of the case and the importance of a solution reached by consensus as the effective way of adopting the necessary step to remediate all the impacts of the dam burst,” Vale said.
The government, which brought the lawsuit, was not immediately available for comment after business hours but in the past has indicated its main concern was reaching a settlement and safely restarting the mine.
The collapse killed 19 people and caused Brazil’s worst ever environmental disaster when mud and waste destroyed a village and polluted the Rio Doce in two states.
Vale said the court approved the contracting within 60 days of companies to diagnose the environmental and social situation and evaluate the recovery programs agreed to in March 2016.
Vale CEO Murilo Ferreira recently said he expected Samarco to resume operations in the third quarter of this year. The resumption is considered vital for Samarco to meet its financial and reparation commitments.
BHP, Vale and Samarco agreed in January with Brazilian prosecutors on a June 30 deadline to settle billions of dollars in compensation claims stemming from the disaster.
The aim is to consolidate and settle separate claims, the biggest of which is the civil claim brought by federal prosecutors last year and suspended by the court on Thursday. ($1 = 3.1180 reais) (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Lisa Shumaker)