JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – A silicosis class action application launched on Thursday against mining giant Anglo American South Africa (AASA) could result in the largest-ever silicosis liability of any gold mining company.
So asserted the legal collaboration that filed the application in the Johannesburg High Court and which comprised the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Garratt Mbuyisa Neale attorneys (GMN), London-based lawyers Leigh Day and Legal Aid South Africa.
The application would be served on Thursday on AASA, a company believed to hold assets worth some $15-billion.
The legal team said in a statement that the application was opt-out and, therefore, provided a mechanism through which the interests of the wider class of silicosis sufferers ¬– including those who were unaware that they had the disease – were protected.
The class action application against AASA was a ‘natural progression’ from the President Steyn litigation against AASA, it claimed.
In 2004, 18 claims relating to miners employed at AASA’s President Steyn mine, in the Free State, were filed by the same legal team, alleging that AASA negligently controlled and advised its mines with regard to the prevention of dust exposure and silicosis.
“The President Steyn cases are in an advanced state of preparation and are expected to be heard over four months between February and June 2014. The arbitration hearing will be at a public venue, in Johannesburg, before a panel of three eminent South African judges,” said the team.
Mining Weekly in December reported that ten of the claims would be heard in a public arbitration hearing, which was set to start on September 2, this year, in Johannesburg.
Former Chief Justice of South Africa Sandile Ngcobo and two former judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Ian Farlam and Noel Hurt, would hear the claims.
The hearing would determine whether AASA should be held liable for compensation to former employees who claim to have contracted silicosis and silicotuberculosis during their employment at the President Steyn mine prior to 1998.
In December, Anglo American told Mining Weekly: “Anglo American does not believe that it is any way liable for the silicosis claims brought by former goldworkers and is defending the actions. We maintain that the gold mining companies that owned and operated the mines and that employed these mineworkers were responsible for the health and safety of their employees and took reasonable steps to protect them.”
“To the extent that the President Steyn litigation does not resolve the issue of AASAs liability, the intention is that the proposed class action will address these issues,” the legal firms said on Thursday.
Moreover, the decision of the arbitrators in the President Steyn case was expected to be influential in laying down the principles to be applied to the case involving the wider class of sufferers.
The legal collaboration said that a series of published studies on black gold miners had consistently revealed alarming rates of silicosis of some 25% in long-term miners.
These studies also confirmed high rates of pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) – a disease to which silicosis sufferers were particularly vulnerable.
When combined with TB, the consequences of silicosis may be fatal, particularly should it not be swiftly and effectively treated.
AASA was not immediately available on Thursday to respond to the legal firms’ statement.