TÜV Süd: survivors seek redress – economy

It was January 25, 2019 when a dam broke in Brazil. 270 people died in the accident. On Tuesday, the Munich justice examined the question of whether TÜV Süd is co-responsible for this. The trigger is a civil lawsuit brought by Gustavo Barroso Camara, his family and the community of Brumadinho. The court is investigating the question: is a German group responsible for the alleged errors of the foreign subsidiary?

It was January 25, 2019 when a dramatic accident occurred in Córrego do Feijão. Not far from the small Brazilian town of Brumadinho, the dam of the retention basin of an iron mine broke. A toxic mudslide swept across the landscape, killing 270 people. The thirty million tons of mud only stopped five miles away and left a trail of devastation. Many employees of the Vale mining company were among the dead. The mud buried the offices and the canteen under itself. Gustavo Barroso Camara’s sister Izabela is also deceased. The 30-year-old engineer was in the cafeteria when the mudslide occurred. Your family is now asking for justice. Together with the mayor of Brumadinho, Avimar de Melo Barcelos, their lawyers and assessors, two of the three brothers and the victim’s husband traveled to Germany for the trial. The parents, the three brothers, the husband and the community are claiming a total of half a million euros in compensation.

“Nothing can bring Izabela back to me, I am very sad and still angry that TÜV Süd refuses to take full responsibility,” says Gustavo Barroso Camara at the start of the process. “I will fight for justice.

“The community is still suffering today”

Avimar de Melo Barcelos, mayor of Brumadinho, also made a statement. “The community is still suffering socially, economically and morally today,” he said loudly. “Visit us on site and see what you’ve done.” The mayor complains that TÜV Süd is shirking its responsibilities and not helping with the construction.

The rest of the negotiations are heard by the two lawyers Jan Erik Spangenberg for the Brazilians and Philipp Hanfland for TÜV Süd. Brazil’s claim is as follows: TÜV Süd is believed to be jointly responsible for the collapse of the dam in 2019. Employees of TÜV’s Brazilian subsidiary are said to have certified the dam safe on several occasions, although the existing defects have long been known, most recently just a few months before the dam collapsed. A German official from TÜV Süd who was in regular contact with Brazilian companies was also said to have been aware of the dam’s deficiencies and of the certificates issued. Florian Stork, legal, compliance and insurance manager at TÜV Süd, denies it. “Local businesses are independently responsible for the business.” The German employee only gave strategic advice in Brazil and had no influence on operational activities, according to Stork.

For the plaintiff’s lawyer, Jan Erik Spangenberg, the role of the German employee in the negotiation is first and foremost a minor issue. By applying Brazilian environmental law, he wants to ensure that the testing company can no longer shirk its responsibility.

TÜV Süd, on the other hand, does not consider itself responsible for the dam failure. The operator of the dam is responsible for stability. This was given at the time the certificate was issued, according to the lawyer for TÜV Hanfland. Another important role is the mining group Vale: the mining operator had already assumed responsibility in February and reached a deal with the state government of Minas Gerais. Vale paid around six billion euros to the state. If the court were to order TÜV Süd to pay compensation, the relatives of the victims would therefore, in TÜV’s view, be compensated twice. Lawyer Spangenberg explains that it could take decades to get compensation in Brazil. This has already been demonstrated in similar accidents in the past.

The verdict may be revolutionary: if Gustavo Barroso Camara, his family and the community of Brumadinho succeed in their trial, TÜV Süd could face several hundred lawsuits from other relatives. Together with the law firm PGMBM, Spangenberg represents around 1,200 people affected. Their claims against TÜV Süd could mean billions in damages. Negotiations are expected to continue early next year.

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