The transnational tort litigation landscape is shifting. Since the beginning of 2019, the Supreme Courts of the UK and the US have allowed mass claims to proceed against a corporation and an international financial institution, respectively, for alleged environmental and human rights-related harm to claimants located halfway around the world. Meanwhile, a mass claim is pending before the Canadian Supreme Court concerning the liability of a Canadian company for acts committed in Eritrea. In the Netherlands, environmental activists have recently filed a claim against a multinational energy company on behalf of more than 30,000 people aimed at forcing the firm to cut its reliance on fossil fuels contributing to climate change. And, back in the UK, 235,000 Brazilians have commenced litigation against a multinational mining company in relation to a deadly dam collapse. In none of these cases has the merits phased commenced, but they reflect a surge in claimants’ confidence in transnational litigation and in the legal risk facing companies today.

Evolving risk in the courts of England and Wales

The UK Supreme Court’s jurisdictional decision in April may represent the most significant development in transnational tort litigation so far this year. In Vedanta Resources PLC and anor. v Lungowe, the Court heard claims brought by 1826 villagers from the Chingola District of Zambia, home to a copper mine operated by Zambian company Konkola Copper Mines plc (KCM). The villagers filed proceedings against KCM and its English parent company, Vedanta Resources, in 2015, alleging that their health and farming activities had been damaged by toxic water pollution caused by the mine. Vedanta and KCM challenged the jurisdiction of the English courts to hear the claims.

Jul-Sep 2019 issue

Allen & Overy LLP