Sick ex-miners take Anglo to court in UK

22 September 2011 - 03:18 By SIPHO MASONDO

Former gold miners claiming to have contracted silico-tuberculosis on Anglo American South Africa mines are suing the company in the London High Court.

Richard Meeran, of London law firm Leigh Day & Co, acting on behalf of more than 450 former miners participating in a class-action suit, is claiming an undetermined amount in compensation, according to court papers filed on Tuesday.

Meeran, who is in South Africa, said yesterday: "All 450 named claimants are still alive. All are alleging that they contracted silicosis and silico-tuberculosis while working at Anglo America SA before 1998.

"The allegation is that Anglo is responsible because it negligently controlled the mines. The dust exposure levels in the mines were excessive."

The company should have ensured that dust levels were not excessive, Meeran said.

Anglo American SA spokesman Pranill Ramchander acknowledged receipt of two claims from Leigh Day & Co and said the company would defend the action.

"Anglo American SA has denied liability in answer to similar claims filed in South African courts and sponsored by the same law firm.

"Anglo American does not believe that it is in any way liable for the silicosis claims brought by former gold workers and is defending the actions," he said.

Anglo American maintains that the gold mines that employed the workers were responsible for their health and safety and took reasonable steps to protect them, Ramchander said.

Meeran said: "It defies logic" that Anglo was defending the claims.

"If they took responsible steps, how is it that so many miners contracted the disease?"

He advised Anglo to consider settling out of court: "We would suggest that the industry applies its mind now without further delay to establishing a settlement scheme for all the suffering miners without having to wait for the outcome of the trial. The case has just started but, given the suffering and poverty of the victims, and the length of time this has been going on, [we] hope a settlement scheme would be established at an early stage."

The case was strong and winnable, Meeran said, adding that the 450 former miners were the tip of the iceberg.

"We are in the process of accepting instruction from other people, tens of thousands of them."

He said the case has been brought in the British courts as Anglo SA was managed by UK-headquartered Anglo American PLC. Under European law, English courts have jurisdiction over a company whose central administration is in England.