The U.K.-based plaintiffs firm Pogust Goodhead has won the right to argue a case in the Netherlands against Brazilian petrochemicals firm Braskem on behalf of communities allegedly destroyed by salt mine operations in northern Brazil.
The claimants allege the Brazilian firm was responsible for creating earth tremors over the course of more than four decades that resulted in the collapse of their homes and the abandonment of their neighborhoods in the municipality of Maceió, in the state of Alagoas.
Maceió has been dubbed the “sinking city” in Brazil.
The jurisdictional success comes hot on the heels of another big win for lawyers at Pogust Goodhead, who in July clinched the right to seek restitution in U.K. courts for claimants harmed by a dam collapse at a mine co-operated by BHP Inc. in Brazil.
Braskem is represented in the Netherlands by Freerk Vermeulen, an Amsterdam-based litigation and arbitration partner at NautaDutilh and head of the firm’s Supreme Court litigation team.
Law.com International has reached out to both Braskem and Vermeulen for comment.
Pogust Goodhead said it sought jurisdiction in the Netherlands because Braskem has entities in Rotterdam that make financial decisions for the company. Braskem’s European operations are headquartered in Rotterdam. Its global headquarters are in Brazil.
The firm hopes that Dutch courts will offer a solution for claimants who have been frustrated by years of what they consider to be inadequate redress for their losses.
“Brazil’s legal process can often take decades before a fair and just conclusion” is reached, said Pogust Goodhead.
The case is being pursued in partnership with Brazilian law firms Neves Macieywski, Garcia e Advogados Associados, Omena Advocacia and Araújo e Máximo Advogados Associados.
Lemstra Van der Korst is local co-counsel in the Netherlands.
Braskem has offered what the plaintiffs’ lawyers say are unfair sums after hundreds of families were obliged to abandon their homes to escape crumbling walls. The neighborhoods now resemble ghost towns.
Braskem has not accepted liability for the unsafe conditions in the municipality, according to Pogust Goodhead. Furthermore, the law firm said the company’s offers for “moral damages” have been made per-household, rather than on a per-person basis, and are roughly what a passenger would receive from an airline for lost luggage: less than $100.
Pogust Goodhead said it has yet to assign an amount for damages it will seek, but estimated that the award will top $1 billion on behalf of around 10,000 claimants.
Marc Krestin, a partner at Pogust Goodhead, said: “Taking this case to the Dutch courts is about getting justice for the people who have lost everything as a result of the mining activities of Braskem. They have lost their homes, their community and their sense of identity due to this large corporation taking what it wants from the land and not giving a second thought to the environment and people around them that it may harm.”
Several of the claimants attended a May hearing in Rotterdam, where their lawyers argued that it is necessary and appropriate to litigate against Braskem in the Dutch courts.
The Dutch justices agreed, writing in their ruling that the “Braskem group, and therewith Braskem SA as top-holding of the group, has chosen to locate the entities that take the financial decisions, and its European headquarters, in Rotterdam. Against this background, Braskem SA could reasonably foresee that, if not only these entities but also herself—as top-holding—were to be sued, this could happen before this Court.”
The Dutch justices denied Braskem the right to appeal.