July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Anglo American Plc’s South African unit can’t be sued in the U.K. by hundreds of miners who blame the company for dust in African gold mines that they say caused lung disease, a London judge ruled today.
The London court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the dispute, Judge Andrew Smith said in his ruling. The miners say they suffer from silicosis caused by exposure to dust in sites run by Anglo American South Africa Ltd.
Foreign claimants flock to London to file lawsuits even when the disputes have little connection to the U.K. Royal Dutch Shell Plc was sued by thousands of Nigerians in the U.K. courts in March 2012 claiming their land, rivers and wetlands were spoiled by two oil spills in the Niger River delta in 2008.
“The English court is not obliged to assume jurisdiction over claims that have little if anything to do with this country,” he said.
More than 200,000 workers are suing 30 mining companies including Anglo American South Africa over silicosis claims in the country that could lead to awards of 1 million rand ($103,000) each in damages, according to the lawyer who filed the claim.
South Africa’s highest court ruled in 2011 that former miners were able to seek compensation from producers regardless of whether they qualified for state benefits for work-related diseases, exposing mining companies to claims.
The miners were trying to sue the company in the U.K. because of the prospect of winning higher damages, lawyers representing them said in an e-mailed statement following the ruling. They intend to appeal today’s decision.
“Today’s ruling was a pyrrhic victory for Anglo American, which as the largest gold mining company over the past 50 years still has to face compelling claims by thousands of miners affected by dust-related lung diseases,” Richard Meeran, a lawyer at Leigh Day & Co., said in the statement.
Meeran said his firm is ready to file 50 claims against Anglo American in South Africa within days.
“Anglo American South Africa believes that the court correctly found that the English court does not have jurisdiction to hear this claim,” a spokeswoman for the company said in an e-mail.
Anglo American is facing a class-action suit in South Africa from the miners with silicosis who worked at 11 operations that the company used to own after lawyers made an application to a Johannesburg court March 7.
Silicosis, from silica dust, causes scar tissue in the lungs, increasing vulnerability to tuberculosis that can kill more than half of sufferers if not properly treated.
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