Mining firms to appeal silicosis ruling, says lawyer

Former Harmony Gold mine worker Matela Hlabathi, 67, holds up his fist outside the Johannesburg High Court following a judgment which enabled a class action suit against 32 gold mining companies (Mpho Raborife, News24)
Former Harmony Gold mine worker Matela Hlabathi, 67, holds up his fist outside the Johannesburg High Court following a judgment which enabled a class action suit against 32 gold mining companies (Mpho Raborife, News24)

Cape Town - Gold mining firms will appeal against a South African court ruling allowing class action suits seeking damages for up to half a million miners who contracted the fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis, a lawyer for the miners said on Friday.

"We can confirm that they will appeal the ruling," said Charles Abrahams, an attorney who acted on behalf of the miners.

READ: Silicosis: Landmark judgment for mineworkers

A High Court decision last month set the stage for protracted proceedings covering cases dating back decades in the largest class action suits yet in Africa's most industrialised country.

Silicosis is an incurable disease caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks. It causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains, and also makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis.

The court's upper estimate of potential claimants is significantly higher than previous estimates at 500 000 claimants.

"Assuming a conservative claim of $6 500 (about R100 000) per claimant, this approximates claims in the total amount of $3.25bn (R50.7bn)," said Max Ebrahim, South African based insurance partner at law firm Clyde & Co.

Anglo American [JSE:AGL], Africa's top gold producer AngloGold Ashanti [JSE:ANG], Gold Fields [JSE:GFI], Harmony Gold [JSE:HAR], Sibanye Gold [JSE:SGL] and African Rainbow Minerals [JSE:ARI], which were defendants in the judgment handed down May 13, have formed the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) group to deal with such issues.

The group declined to comment and will respond later on Friday, OLD spokesperson Charmane Russell told Reuters.

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