Mine workers sue Sasol for R82m

2015-04-05 15:00

A group of mine workers are suing Sasol Mining for compensation related to lung diseases – the first such case outside the gold sector.

The claims by 19 former and three current mine workers at the petrochemical giant’s underground coal mines in Secunda add up to about R82?million.

Most of that relates to medical costs over the expected life span of the claimants, in addition to lost earnings and general damages.

Their lawyer is Richard Spoor, who has also spearheaded the massive silicosis class action against gold mines, which is still slowly making its way towards court.

The claims were filed in the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday.

According to court papers, the 22 claimants are seeking sums ranging from R880?000 to R10?million each.

The differences among the claims stem, to a large extent, from the varying ages of the claimants.

The youngest is about 50, meaning that the medical and lost earnings claims cover a longer period up to the estimated time of retirement and death.

According to Spoor, the case has been about 18 months in the making and has involved medical screening of about 100 mine workers.

According to court papers, the claimants accuse Sasol of failing to make its mining operations safe from the 1970s right up

to the present time.

The claimants all suffer from one or more of the lung diseases that can develop due to exposure to unsafe levels of coal dust.

These include coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, progressive massive fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Sasol’s spokesperson, Alex Anderson, confirmed the claims and says the group is “assessing the lawsuit”.

According to Spoor, there had been an attempt to take the claims into arbitration but the parties abandoned that avenue.

The long-awaited class action against the South African gold industry, driven by a huge team of lawyers including Spoor, will finally reach court on October 12 this year, Spoor told City Press.

That will be the certification hearing, which will determine whether the court considers it fair and feasible that tens of thousands of former gold mine workers with lung diseases institute a single class action.

The mining industry is trying to prevent this by arguing that the specific circumstances of each and every mine worker have to be dealt with in detail, making a class action practically impossible.

The Sasol case, like the silicosis class action, is only possible due to Spoor’s landmark victory against AngloGold Ashanti in the Constitutional Court in 2011.

That case established that mine workers can sue their employers for lung diseases – if they can prove negligence.

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