December 18, 2018 / 5:17 AM / 6 months ago

Australia Federal Court narrows BHP's suits over Samarco disaster

MELBOURNE, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The Federal Court of Australia on Tuesday ordered that the number of class-action lawsuits against BHP Group over a Brazilian mine collapse be narrowed to one from three.

BHP is facing legal challenges over the 2015 collapse of the Fundao tailings dam, which stored mining waste at a mined owned by the Samarco joint venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining giant Vale. The disaster killed 19 and spilled about 40 million cubic metres of sludge over communities and into the Rio Doce river and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Federal Court ruled that a class action suit led by Vince Impiombato, filed in the state of Victoria, could proceed. The suit claims that Impiombato, a former BHP shareholder, sustained losses stemming from deceptive conduct and failures in continuous disclosure requirements.

Additionally, the court placed a permanent stay, or hold, on a class action led by an Australian retirement fund and a temporary stay on a suit brought by the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association until Sept. 1, 2019, in order to cut costs and reduce court overlap since the allegations were similar.

Impiombato is represented by specialist law firm Phi Finney McDonald, and funded by litigation company KTMC Funding LLC.

A BHP spokesman said the company was defending the claim.

BHP still faces lawsuits in other jurisdictions. Last month, SPG Law, a British offshoot of a U.S. litigator, filed three legal claims for unlimited damages over the Fundao dam failure in a court in the English city of Liverpool.

In June, Samarco, Vale SA and BHP signed a deal with Brazilian authorities to settle a 20 billion reais ($5.30 billion) lawsuit related to the failure.

The miner also agreed to fund a total of $211 million in financial support for the Renova Foundation, created to help victims of the Samarco dam disaster in Brazil.

In July, BHP said it expected to record a charge of $650 million in its fiscal 2018 results on account of the failure. The charge was at the lower end of expectations according to analysts. (Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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