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Cape/Gencor lawsuits (re So. Africa)

In 1997, a group of five South Africans suffering from asbestos-related disease brought suit against Cape PLC in UK Court seeking compensation for their injuries caused by Cape's asbestos mining and miling activity in South Africa. In 2003, Cape PLC and the plaintiffs reached an out of court settlement.

 

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found that South African courts would not be a viable alternative forum because legal aid in South Africa had been withdrawn for personal injury claims and no reasonable likelihood existed for the plaintiffs to acquire effective legal representation on a contingency fee basis for a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
8 January 2002

Asbestosis victims to get first of £21m compensation cash by June [South Africa]

Author: Jacquie Motsoatsoe, Business Report [South Africa]

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Article
8 January 2002

South African Asbestos Victims Settle With Cape

Author: ICEM - International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions

British-based multinational to pay €33.8m/$30.2m

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Article
24 December 2001

Cape to compensate South Africa asbestos miners

Author: Rex Merrifield, Reuters

Building materials firm Cape Plc reached a conditional deal last week to pay 21 million pounds ($30 million) to South African miners who blame it for asbestos-related diseases they contracted in the 1970s.

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Article
21 December 2001

Victory for South African asbestos claimants

Author: ACTSA [Action for Southern Africa]

Cape plc, who mined asbestos in South Africa for several decades, has today finally agreed to a compensation settlement of £21 million for the thousands of South African asbestos victims.

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Article
12 December 2001

Blow to asbestos claimants

Author: Business Day [South Africa]

Britain's Court of Appeal ruled on Tuesday that people suffering from asbestos-related diseases will not receive compensation if they were exposed to the mineral fibres by more than one employer. But the ruling does not affect the claims by South Africans against Cape PLC.

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Article
23 November 2001

Asbestos victims widen quest for compensation [South Africa/UK]

Author: Business Day [South Africa]

THE victims in SA's biggest asbestos claim have shown SA mining company Gefco and insurance firm General Accident SA that they intend to widen their focus in their quest for compensation. Although talks are continuing to settle the matter with Cape plc, the victims are looking to the two companies to acknowledge responsibility for the past and offer compensation.

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Article
6 November 2001

Cape plc Opens Talks With South African Asbestos Victims: First breakthrough in compensation campaign?

Author: International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions [ICEM]

Cape mined asbestos in South Africa for almost a century. "Children were employed, unprotected, in the most hazardous tasks of sorting asbestos with their bare hands and trampling it with their bare feet," recalled ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs in letters last month to Montpellier and other major shareholders. "Due to the atrocious conditions at the mines and mills, thousands of South Africans developed the fatal asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, and the debilitating disease of asbestosis."

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Article
5 November 2001

South African asbestos settlement talks begin

Author: ACTSA [Action for Southern Africa]

At a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice this morning, it was agreed that lawyers from both parties will now have fourteen days to "engage in constructive dialogue", while the case is suspended.

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Article
2 November 2001

Cape asbestos case turns critical

Author: ACTSA [Action for Southern Africa]

Cape plc’s new management is now under pressure to deliver as ACTSA’s 1 campaign for justice for thousands of South African asbestos victims enters a critical stage.

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Article
24 October 2001

Compensate South African Victims, Cape plc Told

Author: ICEM - International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions

Multinational should settle now with asbestos claimants, world union says -...Cape closed its British asbestos factory in 1968, due to the high incidence of asbestos-related diseases. But it kept its South African operation running for another decade after that, and lobbied the apartheid regime to suppress information about the health risks.

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