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Landmark settlement of miners’ claims boosts fight for silicosis compensation

Leigh Day advise on the first gold miners’ silicosis claim in South African history which settled today

25 September 2013

 The long-running President Steyn gold miners’ silicosis litigation against Anglo American South Africa Ltd (AASA) has today been settled.

This is the first gold miners’ silicosis settlement in South Africa. The terms of settlement are confidential but include payment of a sum of money to 23 claimants, including 18 President Steyn Mine claimants, whose claims began in 2004. (The other 5 claims arise from employment on other Anglo American Free State mines).

The claimants were underground miners (or widows of deceased miners) employed on Free State mines (including President Steyn) within the AASA group until 1998.

The 23 claims arose from contraction of silicosis and silico-tuberculosis allegedly caused by AASA’s negligent failure to ensure that dust levels on its mines were adequately controlled.

The claimants sought compensation for pain and suffering, lost earnings and medical expenses. Black miners undertook the dustiest jobs on the gold mines, unprotected by effective respirators.

A series of published studies on black former gold miners have confirmed high rates (20-30%) of silicosis in those who were employed long-term.

Miners with silicosis have a greatly increased risk of contracting tuberculosis, a disease which is endemic in rural areas and to which black miners are therefore especially vulnerable. Epidemic rates of silicosis and tuberculosis have occurred in black South African gold miners. Medical experts have described a “river of disease flowing out of South African gold mines”. The combination of silicosis and tuberculosis (silico-tuberculosis) is very serious and often fatal.

The claimants’ lawyers comprised London human rights firm Leigh Day, the Legal Resources Centre (South Africa) and attorney, Zanele Mbuyisa (Mbuyisa Neale).

The case received funding from Legal Aid South Africa. The litigation, which was at an advanced stage, had been scheduled for an arbitration hearing in 2014 before former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and retired Appeal Court Justices Noel Hurt and Ian Farlam.

According to the claimants’ lawyers, the case was very strong and they were confident of winning. Nevertheless settlement was in the claimants’ best interests: of the 23 claimants, 7 had died during the course of the litigation (since 2004) and the health of others is very fragile. Awaiting a conclusion of the arbitration would have delayed payment of compensation by at least another 1 year.

Richard Meeran from Leigh Day said: "We are delighted that the claimants have at last got justice.

"Unfortunately, one third of them died during the course of the case. We urge the gold mining companies to establish an industry-wide settlement scheme without delay. The writing is now on the wall."

The claimants’ lawyers are actively involved in on-going silicosis claims for other gold miners: The LRC is part of the legal team working on the class action that is to be consolidated shortly.

Leigh Day and Mbuyisa Neale are acting for approximately 4000 ex-miners who have filed individual claims against AASA both in the UK and South Africa. Today’s settlement gives a significant boost to silicosis victims’ quest for an industry-wide settlement scheme.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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