By Kirstin Ridley
LONDON, Jan 22 (Reuters) - German industrial inspector TÜV SÜD is facing a claim for "significant damages" in the first civil lawsuit on German soil over its alleged role in the deadly collapse of a dam in Brazil two years ago.
A group of Brazilian claimants allege TÜV SÜD was responsible for certifying the Brumadinho tailings dam when it was unsafe for fear of losing Brazil's Vale, the world's largest iron ore producer that operated the dam, as a client.
TÜV SÜD said in a statement it remained convinced it had no legal responsibility for the dam failure.
The dam in southeastern Brazil burst in January 2019, four months after it was certified, unleashing an avalanche of waste that killed about 270 people in the country's deadliest mining accident.
The group action, brought on behalf of Brazil's municipality of Brumadinho and the family of one of the victims by law firm PGMBM and German counsel, alleges TÜV SÜD made "market adjustments" to safety standards that lowered them below international standards.
"Our evidence shows that TÜV SÜD certified this dam as safe when it most certainly was not – a fact they knew then," said Tom Goodhead, managing partner of PGMBM.
TÜV SÜD said its thoughts continued to be with the victims, that it remained keen to clarify the cause of the accident and continued to cooperate with Brazilian authorities. It said it would defend itself against the latest allegations.
"TÜV SÜD is convinced (it) has no legal responsibility for the Brumadinho dam failure," the company said in a statement, adding it believed its Brazilian division and Vale had complied with local laws and standards at the time.
The claimants say they are bringing the lawsuit in Germany under Brazilian law because access to justice in Brazil is slow and inefficient. They will initially seek an indication from the district court in Munich, southern Germany, that TÜV SÜD is liable in principle before properly quantifying damages.
TÜV SÜD, which no longer offers dam safety inspections, has faced criminal investigations in Germany and Brazil, where the company was last year charged with environmental crimes and five workers with homicide.
($1 = 0.8237 euros) (Additional reporting by John O'Donnell in Frankfurt. Editing by Mark Potter)