Johannesburg – The six companies that are members of the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group on Friday each filed petitions to the Supreme Court of Appeal for leave to appeal against the class action certification judgment delivered in the South Gauteng High Court on May 13.
The companies are African Rainbow Minerals [JSE:ARM], Anglo American South Africa [JSE:AGL], AngloGold Ashanti [JSE:ANG], Gold Fields [JSE:GFI], Harmony [JSE:HAR] and Sibanye Gold [JSE:SGL].
The High Court, in its judgment, certified the establishment of two separate classes for silicosis and tuberculosis and also changed the common law in respect of general damages claims. The court granted leave to appeal only in respect of the latter point.
On Friday the members of the Working Group filed petitions to the Supreme Court of Appeal for leave to appeal against the certification of the two separate classes for silicosis and tuberculosis.
"The companies are conscious of concerns that the appeal processes will delay finalisation of the matters. The reason they are appealing is because the judgment addresses a number of highly complex and important issues. The High Court itself found that the scope and magnitude of the proposed claims is unprecedented in South Africa and that the class action would address novel and complex issues of fact and law," the group said in a statement.
In an attempt to shorten any delay due to an appeal process, it is permissible to request that the appeals be dealt with on an expedited basis. The companies intend to do this, should leave to appeal be granted by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
In addition, the Working Group said it remains of the view that achieving a mutually acceptable comprehensive settlement which is both fair to past, present and future employees, and sustainable for the sector, is preferable to protracted litigation.
"The Working Group will continue with its efforts – which have been ongoing for more than a year – to find common ground with stakeholders, including the claimants’ legal representatives," it said in the statement.
In June this year the Johannesburg High Court granted gold mining firms partial leave to appeal the South Gauteng High Court's silicosis judgment. Certification was not successful on appeal, but the transmissibility element of the appeal was allowed.
The mining firms were appealing against a High Court ruling allowing a class action suit seeking damages for up to half a million miners who contracted the fatal lung diseases, silicosis and tuberculosis.
In May the High Court ruled that mineworkers could launch a silicosis class action suit against mining companies.
The Working Group pointed out at the time that it is important to note that the court finding enabling a silicosis class action suit by 69 claimants against 32 South African mining companies does not represent a view on the merits of the case brought by claimants.
A class action trial would deal with all the evidence simultaneously, in what could be the largest class action ever to be certified in SA.