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Cape/Gencor lawsuits (re So. Africa)

In 1997, a group of five South Africans suffering from asbestos-related disease (ARD) brought suit against Cape PLC in the English High Court seeking compensation for their injuries from Cape’s asbestos mining and milling activity in South Africa.  The plaintiffs, former Cape workers and individuals living in the vicinity of Cape’s operations, alleged that Cape exposed its workers to 30 times the British legal limit of asbestos dust without adequate protective gear and that asbestos related injuries were suffered by those living near Cape’s asbestos operations.  After the claim was filed, Cape applied to stay these claims on forum non conveniens grounds, arguing that the case should be tried in South Africa.  At the beginning of 1998, Cape’s application was granted by the trial court, but the Court of Appeals later reversed the lower court’s decision.  In 1999, another 2000 claims were commenced against Cape in England for ARD based on Cape’s activity in South Africa.  Cape reapplied to stay these new claims, in addition to those filed in 1997, and Cape’s application was granted.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling.  The plaintiffs then appealed to the UK House of Lords, and in 2000 the Law Lords held that the case should be allowed to continue in the English High Court.  The Law Lords found that South African courts would not be a viable alternative forum because legal aid in South Africa had been withdrawn for personal injury claims and no reasonable likelihood existed for the plaintiffs to acquire effective legal representation on a contingency fee basis for a case of such complexity.  After the House of Lords decision, more claimants joined the case, and by 2001 there were approximately 7500 claimants.  In 2001, Cape agreed to a £21 million out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs, but the company encountered financial problems in August 2002 and did not meet the agreed settlement terms.  Therefore, the litigation recommenced in September 2002, and Gencor Ltd. was joined as a defendant in the case.  Gencor is a South African company which took over some of Cape’s South African asbestos operations when Cape left the country in 1979. 

In 2003, the plaintiffs, Cape and Gencor reached a settlement agreement.  There were three parts to the settlement.  First, Gencor established and now administers a £35 million trust in South Africa (the trust is to compensate ARD victims in South Africa who were not represented by Leigh Day & Co.).  Second, Cape settled with its 7500 claimants for £7.5 million.  Third, Gencor settled with the 7500 claimants for approximately £3 million.

 

- [PDF] “Cape plc: South African Mineworkers' Quest for Justice”, Richard Meeran [counsel for plaintiffs], International Journal of Occupational Environmental Health, Jul/Sep 2003

- Action for Southern Africa: “Cape Caves in on South African Asbestos Case”, 13 Mar 2003

 

- Cape PLC: Cape Annual Report 2003 [scroll to page 47, item 26(ii) for discussion of 2003 settlement]

 

- Leigh Day & Co. (plaintiffs’ counsel): South African Asbestos Victims Finally Get Their Money, 30 Jun 2003

- Thompsons Solicitors (counsel for claimants suing Gencor): Landmark Settlement Brings Justice for Thousands of SA Former Asbestos Miners, 13 Mar 2003

 

- UK House of Lords: Judgments - Schalk Willem Burger Lubbe (Suing as Administrator of the Estate of Rachel Jacoba Lubbe) and 4 Others and Cape Plc. and Related Appeals, 20 July 2000 [House of Lords decision]

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Article
5 August 2002

Asbestosis victims wait for their millions [South Africa]

Author: Peter Fabricius, The Star [South Africa]

Mining company Cape plc is still unable to give a date for the payout of £11-million (about R175-million) in damages due to the 7 500 victims of asbestosis contracted from the company's mines in the Northern Cape.

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Article
26 June 2002

Internationally Binding Legislation and Litigation for the Enforcement of Labour Rights

Author: Clean Clothes Campaign and IRENE, report on seminar held in Germany

This international seminar brought together lawyers, NGOs and Trade Unions to explore the legal possibilities for holding multinational corporations (MNCs) responsible for labour rights in their operations outside their home countries.

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Article
5 June 2002

Asbestos firm [Cape] warns of claims risk

Author: BBC News

A UK-owned building firm, which has agreed to pay £20m to South African miners over asbestos-related claims, has warned it may suffer further payouts if bankers scupper the deal...Any reopening of the legal battle, which involved a landmark judgement by law lords, could escalate Cape's losses related to the claim, the firm warned.

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Article
22 May 2002

36 asbestos claims cite Gencor as a defendant [South Africa]

Author: Ronnie Morris, Business Report [South Africa]

Summonses on behalf of 36 former asbestos workers were issued in the Johannesburg high court yesterday against four mining companies [African Chrysotile Asbestos, Msauli Asbes, Gencor and Hanova Mining]...for damages amounting to R25 million for asbestos-related illnesses.

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Article
16 May 2002

Asbestos victims win landmark case [UK]

Author: BBC News

Three people affected by asbestos cancer have won a groundbreaking case for compensation in the House of Lords...They were appealing against previous rulings by the Court of Appeal and the High Court denying them compensation on the basis that they were exposed to the deadly dust by more than one employer...Most victims of illnesses associated with the deadly dust come from areas linked to heavy industries such as shipbuilding and engineering.

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Article
23 April 2002

Justice sought for workers suffering from asbestosis [South Africa]

Author: Sanchia Temkin, Business Day [South Africa]

[regarding trust fund for victims of Cape plc]

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Article
19 April 2002

Lifting the corporate veil

Author: Richard Meeran, British attorney who acted successfully for South African asbestosis victims against Cape Plc, in Mail & Guardian [South Africa]

A legally binding convention that is enforceable in practice needs to be formulated to ensure proper multinational accountability, capturing the supply-chain, not just subsidiaries. This convention must be applied internationally and, in a development of international law, apply to corporations as well as states.

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Article
15 January 2002

Asbestosis victims take Gefco to court in quest for justice [South Africa]

Author: Ronnie Morris, Business Report [South Africa]

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Article
14 January 2002

Gefco faces potential lawsuit landslide

Author: Ronnie Morris, Business Report [South Africa]

The first of possibly several hundred summonses for damages against Griqualand Exploration and Finance Company (Gefco), a Gencor subsidiary, for asbestos-related illnesses was issued by the high court in Johannesburg last week.

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Article
12 January 2002

UK payout for asbestosis victims

Author: Brendan Seery, Independent [South Africa]

British-based multinational Cape plc is expected to pay a first tranche of £21-million (about R336-million) in June to a trust set up to aid sufferers from asbestos-related diseases in South Africa.

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