The Hague – Dutch judges have agreed to hear a multi-million-euro compensation claim by residents of a Brazilian city against petrochemical giant Braskem, accused of causing earthquakes that forced thousands to abandon their homes.
The ruling by the Rotterdam District Court late Wednesday has paved the way for thousands of plaintiffs to sue Braskem for “hundreds of millions of euros” in damages in the northeastern city of Maceio, the plaintiff’s lawyers said on Thursday.
“The decision in essence was that all of the defences raised by the Braskem entities were rejected,” Marc Krestin of the Pogust Goodhead law firm said.
“This means that, at least on a prima facie basis, the Dutch judges will consider the claim by our clients,” he told AFP.
Eleven residents of Maceio, the capital of Brazil’s coastal Alagoas state, in November 2020 sued Braskem in the Netherlands as a result of the quakes which struck the city in 2018.
The tremors caused massive structural damage like fissures in walls and opened sinkholes, forcing tens of thousands of residents in the city’s Pinheiro district and four others to move.
Brazilian news reports say more than 50 000 people and 14 000 households were affected by the tremors, attributed to salt mining by Braskem which has been ongoing since the 1970s.
“The area was virtually turned into a ghost town. Large parts of the city have been completely devastated,” Krestin said.
The residents in November 2020 lodged a case with the Dutch courts, saying the legal process had stalled in Brazil and a collective settlement scheme by Braskem fell far below expectations.
“The sorts of money they are offering victims… by far are insufficient to cover the damages that our clients and the victims in Maceio have suffered,” Krestin said.
The residents’ claim of liability rested on the fact that Braskem has three subsidiaries based at its European headquarters in Rotterdam.
Judges agreed they had jurisdiction to rule in a case involving the subsidiaries as well as parent company Braskem SA as their business was “inextricably linked.”
“Braskem SA could have reasonably foreseen that not only their (Dutch) entities but also the holding company could be brought before this court,” the judges said in their verdict of which AFP has a copy.
Braskem did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment, but Brazilian news reports quoted its lawyers in May as saying they have already paid out more than $400 million in compensation.