The long-running President Steyn gold miners’ silicosis litigation against Anglo American South Africa Ltd (AASA) has today been settled.
This is the first gold miners’ silicosis settlement in South Africa. The terms of settlement are confidential but include payment of a sum of money to 23 claimants, including 18 President Steyn Mine claimants, whose claims began in 2004. (The other 5 claims arise from employment on other Anglo American Free State mines).
Claimants and lawyers from Leigh Day and the Legal Resources centre following the decision
The claimants were underground miners (or widows of deceased miners) employed on Free State mines (including President Steyn) within the AASA group until 1998.
The 23 claims arose from contraction of silicosis and silico-tuberculosis allegedly caused by AASA’s negligent failure to ensure that dust levels on its mines were adequately controlled.
The claimants sought compensation for pain and suffering, lost earnings and medical expenses. Black miners undertook the dustiest jobs on the gold mines, unprotected by effective respirators.
A series of published studies on black former gold miners have confirmed high rates (20-30%) of silicosis in those who were employed long-term.
Miners with silicosis have a greatly increased risk of contracting tuberculosis, a disease which is endemic in rural areas and to which black miners are therefore especially vulnerable. Epidemic rates of silicosis and tuberculosis have occurred in black South African gold miners. Medical experts have described a “river of disease flowing out of South African gold mines”. The combination of silicosis and tuberculosis (silico-tuberculosis) is very serious and often fatal.
The claimants’ lawyers comprised London human rights firm Leigh Day, the Legal Resources Centre (South Africa) and attorney, Zanele Mbuyisa (Mbuyisa Neale).
The case received funding from Legal Aid South Africa. The litigation, which was at an advanced stage, had been scheduled for an arbitration hearing in 2014 before former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and retired Appeal Court Justices Noel Hurt and Ian Farlam.
According to the claimants’ lawyers, the case was very strong and they were confident of winning. Nevertheless settlement was in the claimants’ best interests: of the 23 claimants, 7 had died during the course of the litigation (since 2004) and the health of others is very fragile. Awaiting a conclusion of the arbitration would have delayed payment of compensation by at least another 1 year.
Richard Meeran from Leigh Day said: “We are delighted that the claimants have at last got justice.
“Unfortunately, one third of them died during the course of the case. We urge the gold mining companies to establish an industry-wide settlement scheme without delay. The writing is now on the wall.”
The claimants’ lawyers are actively involved in on-going silicosis claims for other gold miners: The LRC is part of the legal team working on the class action that is to be consolidated shortly.
Leigh Day and Mbuyisa Neale are acting for approximately 4000 ex-miners who have filed individual claims against AASA both in the UK and South Africa. Today’s settlement gives a significant boost to silicosis victims’ quest for an industry-wide settlement scheme.
But the battle goes on…
Leigh Day and Mbuyisa Neale: the on-going gold miners’ silicosis litigation
Following the settlement of the President Steyn miners’ litigation, Leigh Day and South African attorneys, Mbuyisa Neale remain centrally involved in the on-going silicosis litigation
25 September 2013
Leigh Day has worked together with Zanele Mbuyisa from Mbuyisa Neale since 1998, initially on the asbestos miners’ litigation against Cape plc and since 2003 on silicosis litigation.
From 2003, the two firms have worked jointly with the Legal Resources Centre (Jbg) and Legal Aid South Africa on silicosis test case litigation against Anglo American South Africa Ltd (AASA) on behalf of former President Steyn miners.
The ultimate goal was to make the gold mining industry establish an industry-wide settlement scheme to benefit thousands of other silicosis victims.
Leigh Day and Mbuyisa Neale presently represent approximately 4000 ex-miners seeking compensation for silicosis and silico-tuberculosis from AASA.
For the past two years the firms have had staff based at various locations in the Eastern Cape, Free State and Lesotho, which were the main labour-sending regions for the gold mines for the second half of the 20th century.
The two firms anticipate that their client base will rise steadily. AASA is the primary focus of our legal actions for three main reasons:
First, until 1998 Anglo American was the largest gold mining house with 11 gold mines within its group. AASA’s potential silicosis liability is by far and away the largest of any company.
Secondly, through their extensive and integral involvement in the President Steyn litigation, Leigh Day and Mbuyisa Neale have acquired a detailed knowledge of the evidence that is relevant to litigation against AASA. To that end, they have reviewed literally hundreds of thousands of documents disclosed by AASA in the President Steyn litigation. They have also engaged in detailed consultations with a range of South African and international mining and medical experts. In light of this knowledge and experience, Leigh Day and Mbuyisa Neale are confident that the case against AASA is strong.
Thirdly, according to recent accounts, AASA has assets of US$37 billion (approx) and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of London-based multinational mining giant Anglo American plc. Consequently, its pockets are sufficiently deep to covers its extensive potential silicosis liability.
In September 2011, Leigh Day filed over 2000 claims against AASA in the UK High Court. They contend that the UK courts have jurisdiction because they say AASA has its central administration in London where the Anglo American Group headquarters is based and that AASA is therefore domiciled in the UK. AASA’s challenge against jurisdiction was upheld in July 2013. The jurisdiction issue has been referred to the UK Court of Appeal.
Unfortunately the prescription period of many of the claimants in the UK action could potentially expire before the jurisdiction issue is finally resolved. For that reason, Mbuyisa Neale, assisted by Leigh Day, are filing claims against AASA in the Pretoria High Court.
To-date, approximately 60 such claims have been filed. Mbuyisa Neale, assisted by Leigh Day, also presently have instructions from more than 100 former Vaal Reefs miners to pursue silicosis claims against AngloGold Ashanti (the employer at the Vaal Reefs mine).
The number of Vaal Reefs clients of the two firms is also steadily increasing. 31 such claims have been filed in the Johannesburg High Court in October 2012. A hearing is scheduled for 3 October 2013.
The various pieces of silicosis litigation in which Leigh Day and Mbuyisa Neale are involved are being pursued as individual claims. As such, they are entirely separate from the proceedings that are presently being brought to certify a silicosis class action and do not need to overcome class action hurdles. However, the Leigh Day/Mbuyisa Neale proceedings and the class action proceedings share entirely the same objective of obtaining a silicosis settlement and are expected to be mutually reinforcing.