Anglo American settles silicosis lawsuit

2013-09-25 12:11

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Anglo American SA (AASA) has settled a lawsuit brought by miners who claimed they contracted silicosis while working for the company.

“I’m delighted to announce this morning this claim has been settled,” Richard Meeran of British law firm Leigh Day told reporters in Johannesburg at a press conference today.

This was the first time such a matter had been settled in South Africa. The case was brought by 23 miners, 18 of whom had worked at AASA’s President Steyn mine in the Free State.

They claimed they contracted silicosis and silico-tuberculosis while working for the company up to 1998.

Five of the 23 were employed on other Anglo American mines in the Free State. Eighteen of the claimants were South African while the other five were from Lesotho.

Of the claimants, 15 were living former miners and eight were widows of former miners, seven of whom were widowed after the case began in 2004.

The matter was scheduled for an arbitration hearing in 2014 before three former and retired judges, with the claimants’ legal team confident of winning, Meeran said.

However, given the poor health of the claimants, it was in their best interests to settle the suit as soon as possible, as it was in the mining companies’ interests to lengthen legal proceedings.

“It suits the industry to delay concluding this litigation... The longer compensation is delayed, the smaller [it] will be ultimately,” Meeran said.

“These cases are typical of the circumstances of hundreds of thousands of black miners... The [mining] industry was well aware of the risk of silicosis.”

He said mining safety measures were inadequate, evidenced by between 20 to 30 percent of long-term miners having contracted silicosis.

“That is an absolutely astronomical level of silicosis.”

The terms of the settlement were confidential and it was made on the basis of no admission of liability.

When asked which party wanted the settlement confidential, Meeran said: “I think you can judge for yourself who wanted the settlement confidential.”

The miners were also represented by the Legal Resources Centre, and attorney Zanele Mbuyisa of law firm Mbuyisa Neale.

Legal Aid SA provided funding for the case.

Meeran said the claimants would receive their settlements within the next few weeks.

A number of legal actions associated with silicosis, including a class action suit representing more than 25,000 gold miners, were pending in different courts in South Africa and the Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom.

The settlement did not set a legal precedent, but it did send a signal to mining companies, Meeran said.

They would continue filing individual claims against AASA, added to the individual claims filed in October 2012 by more than 100 former AngloGold Ashanti Vaal Reef miners who had contracted silicosis.

“We would like to see an industry-wide settlement established,” Meeran said.

“The writing is on the wall for the industry.”

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