Anglo American Plc’s South African unit faces a class-action suit from miners with silicosis who worked at 11 operations that the company used to own, lawyers led by Leigh Day & Co. said.
“It’s a class action to which anyone who meets the requisite criteria will belong unless they decide to opt out,” Richard Meeran, an attorney with Leigh Day, said by phone from London. The potential number of claimants is at least in the tens of thousands, he said.
The application, made in the Johannesburg High Court, is being served on Anglo’s South African unit today, Leigh Day and others including Garratt Mbuyisa Neale Attorneys said in an e-mailed statement.
South Africa’s highest court cleared the way for damages claims to be brought against gold companies in March 2011 by ruling that former miner Thembekile Mankayi could pursue a 2.7 million-rand ($300,000) claim against AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. Gold companies including AngloGold deny liability, and say they will oppose the action.
“We can confirm that we’ve been served with the application,” Pranill Ramchander, a Johannesburg-based spokesman for Anglo, said in a phone interview. “Anglo American denies any liability and we will continue to defend any action.”
Leigh Day’s application is separate to the suit the firm brought against AngloGold in October.
Leigh Day also sued Anglo American in 2004 on behalf of 18 former miners at its President Steyn mine in the Free State province. The case is expected to be heard over four months from February to June 2014, and will entail an arbitration hearing before three judges including retired Appeal Court Judge Ian Farlam, who is heading an inquiry into the deaths of at least 34 people at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana mine last year.
Silicosis is caused by prolonged exposure to dust in mines, leaving irreversible scar tissue in lungs and making it hard to breathe. It also heightens the risk of contracting tuberculosis.
The mines involved in the class-action suit served today are Free State Geduld, Welkom, Western Deep Levels, Western Holdings, Freddies, Free State Saaiplaas, Vaal Reefs, Elandsrand, Joel and President Steyn, all of which were owned by Anglo American South Africa until 1998, Meeran said.
South Africa’s gold mines caused about 1,140 new cases of silicosis annually from 1980 to 1990, David Davis, a Johannesburg-based mining analyst at SBG Securities Ltd., wrote in a 2011 report on the possible accountability of such cases.
Lawyers representing workers in other cases will merge damages lawsuits filed against AngloGold, Harmony Gold Mining Co. and other employers, Richard Spoor, who represents about 18,000 workers and dependents of those who died from their illness, said in a March 5 interview.
Today’s application “provides a mechanism through which the interests of the wider class of silicosis sufferers, including those who are unaware that they have the disease, are protected.” Leigh Day said in the statement. “To the extent that the President Steyn litigation does not resolve the issue of Anglo American South Africa’s liability, the intention is that the proposed class action will address these issues.”