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Asbestos and Cape plc

Leigh Day represented 7,500 South African asbestos miners in a claim against Cape plc and the insurers of Gencor, a South African mining company.

The claimants were former miners or relatives of deceased  miners employed  at, or living in the vicinity of Cape’s blue and brown asbestos mines in the Northern Cape and Limpopo provinces respectively. Cape’s South African mines contained the most hazardous forms of asbestos. Black miners were exposed to extraordinarily high levels of dust. Approximately 500 of our clients’ claims were for mesothelioma, a fatal asbestos-related cancer of the lining of the lungs. A significant number of the claimants had been employed  in the mines as young children without any protection from the dust.

blom-p-10.jpgLeigh Day brought the case in the UK courts. Cape contested the jurisdiction for three years, arguing that the case should be heard in South Africa. The case went all the way up to the House of Lords before the claimants were permitted to proceed with the case in the UK. The South African gov- ernment intervened in the case in support of the claimants. The decision on jurisdiction was made on the basis of the legal principle established in an earlier case pursued by Leigh Day for Namibian miners against Rio Tinto plc.

In 2003 Leigh Day successfully negotiated an out of court settlement, which was an important victory in this long running case. However, the delays and challenges by Cape meant that of the 7,500 claimants who initiated the case, 1,000 did not live to see it successfully concluded.  The amount of the settlement reflected Cape’s precarious financial position.

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