Miners may face SA's largest damages case

2012-08-21 13:30

Cape Town - South Africa's leading gold miners are facing a potential lawsuit on behalf of thousands of workers who claim they contracted silicosis, a lung disease, through the companies' negligence.    

A South African lawyer filed the first papers on Tuesday against AngloGold Ashanti [JSE:ANG], Gold Fields [JSE:GFI] and Harmony Gold Mining Company [JSE:HAR], in a preliminary step to determine whether the court recognises the case as a class action.

“If the certification is granted we anticipate that this may be the largest damages suit in the history of this country, in the tens of billions of rand possibly,” lawyer Charles Abrahams, who represents more than 3 000 mostly former miners, said.

The mining companies had declined to comment in detail ahead of the filing. A spokesperson for Gold Fields said on Tuesday he would not comment, while officials at the other two firms were not immediately available.

The suit, which has little precedent in South African law, has its roots in a landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court a year ago that for the first time allowed lung-diseased miners to sue their employers for damages.

Silicosis is a disease that causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains and makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis, which kills. It has no known cure.

Abrahams said the claim was separate, but similar, to that of fellow lawyer, Richard Spoor, who represents several thousand more claimants. In March, Spoor said he would soon file his class action papers against the same mining companies cited by Abrahams.

The two cases could eventually be joined, said Abrahams.

Graham Briggs, the chief executive of Harmony, told Reuters earlier this year, the issue of silicosis was “a big topic” but he did not think it “class action material”.

Different conditions prevailed at different times in different mines, he said, and workers may have had more than one employer.

A successful suit could collectively cost mining companies billions of dollars, according to legal and industry experts.

The largest settlement to date by the mining industry in South Africa was $100m in 2003 in a case brought by Spoor against an asbestos company.  

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  • Giyangethambo - 2012-08-21 13:35

    maybe they will be able to pay if these capitalists increase their salaries to R12,500

      harald.voney - 2012-08-21 14:08

      Not going to even begin to try understand that comment???

      nicholas.graan - 2012-08-21 14:30

      Funny how they depend on "these capitalists" for a living, the ANC depends on them to keep the trough full, yet they are public enemy number 1 and everything possible is being done to make life as difficult as possible for them! No wonder most of them are looking for greener pastures north of us.

  • blignault.michaele - 2012-08-21 13:38

    Another lawyer in for a penny in for a pound...I worked on the mines and I know that the management are very diligent on testing regularily for any lung changes. If he is representing 3,000 former miners then the average payout is in excess of R3m each [based on R10bn only]...crap here comes the same type of scam as debt collectors buying old debt [6 years plus] and tring to recover it at a percentage return.

  • mofstok - 2012-08-21 13:39

    Daarsy! Let the ruling be just.

  • charmaine.hoffmann.1 - 2012-08-21 14:59

    I smell a rat....sounds like some conspirasy against mines...Wonder if the little worm M a l e m a and his ANCYL cronies are not behind all this happenings all of a know..stomp them while they are down...which mine is next I wonder..

  • Odicito - 2012-08-21 15:53

    I think this is great! I know many people will cry this as a bad move but believe me if we don't build into business the culture of responsibility we will have more problems i the future (case in point is the acid mine issues in Gauteng: mines messed up and left, and government is too incompetent to deal with the mess). So I say sue them, and then they will start being more responsible. Unfortunately for us we cant trust the government to do anything even if they put a levy on such, it will not go to health facilities and cleaning up pollution, but as well all know by now in some fat cat's pocket. So better get it straight to those affected!

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