Gold miner silicosis litigation (re So. Africa)

GoldOn 21 December 2012 attorney Richard Spoor filed a motion in South Africa court seeking class certification for as many as 17,000 ex-gold miners suffering from the lung disease silicosis.  The proposed class action named 30 gold mining companies as defendants, including African Rainbow Minerals, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony Gold.  The plaintiffs allege that the defendant companies knew of the dangers posed to the miners by exposing them to silica dust and that defendants failed to take adequate measures to protect the workers from this exposure.

On 31 October 2013 the High Court of Johannesburg ruled that all of the pending lawsuits against gold mining companies regarding silicosis may be consolidated into one action.  The High Court started to hear the class certification motion on 12 October 2015. 

On 13 May 2016, South Africa's High Court allowed the class action lawsuit.  The companies appealed the decision.  On 24 June, the High Court rejected the appeal on the basis that the certification of a class action is a procedural step and therefore, not appealable.  In September 2016, six of the defendant companies were granted the right to appeal the South Gauteng High Court’s decision allowing the plaintiffs to pursue a class action.  In December 2017, both parties requested the Supreme Court of Appeal to postpone the hearing, while they are trying to reach a settlement.  In January 2018, the Court granted postponement.  On 3 May 2018, the parties announced that they have reached an agreement.  The settlement provides for compensation to all workers who worked at the companies' mines at any point since March 1965 and are suffering from silicosis, as well to the families of deceased miners.  Six companies targeted in the lawsuit have set aside approximately $400 million to settle.  The settlement will be submitted for the South Gauteng High Court's ratification before implementation.  The class action will continue against three smaller companies that did not participate in the settlement. A silicosis fund that will disburse the funds is to be established in 2019.

- "South African court allows silicosis class action suit against gold firms", TJ Strydom & Zimasa Mpemnyama, Reuters, 13 May 2016
- “Ex-miners seek silicosis class action vs. South African firms”, Reuters, 28 Dec 2012

- Richard Spoor Inc. Attorneys [counsel for the plaintiffs]:Gold Miner Silicosis Litigation

- [PDF] Nkala, et al. v. Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited, et al. - Judgement on leave to appeal, 24 Jun 2016
- [PDF] Nkala, et al. v. Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited, et al. - Judgement on authorization of class action, 13 May 2016
- [PDF] Nkala, et al. v. Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited, et al. – Notice of Motion, 21 Dec 2012 [application for class certification]
- [PDF] Nkala, et al. v. Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited, et al. – Draft Particulars of Claim, 21 Dec 2012

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28 July 2017

So. Africa: Mining companies set aside millions for potential settlement of gold miners’ silicosis lawsuit

Author: Kevin Crowley , Bloomberg Technology

"Anglo, Gold Miners Set Aside Millions for Lung Disease Claims", 27 Jul 2017

South African mining firms including Anglo American Plc are preparing a multimillion-dollar settlement with as many as 100,000 former workers who suffer from debilitating and deadly lung diseases caused by exposure to dust from working underground.

Anglo has set aside $101 million in preparation for a potential settlement, while Gold Fields Ltd. expects to pay about $30 million to end a class action lawsuit, the companies said in separate statements Thursday. AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., Sibanye Gold Ltd. and Harmony Gold Mining Co. are among 32 respondents named in the suit, which would be the country’s biggest class action.

“Significant progress has been made towards a settlement, such that companies are feeling comfortable enough to quantify their liabilities,” Richard Spoor, a lawyer representing claimants, said in a phone interview. “It’s still a process but I’m fairly optimistic we will be able to conclude something within the course of this year.”…

South Africa’s High Court last year ruled that there was enough evidence of unsafe working practices to allow a class action case to proceed and that as many as 500,000 former workers could be included…


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5 June 2017

NGO calls for justice for southern Africa mineworkers affected by silicosis and tuberculosis

Author: Action for Southern Africa (United Kingdom)

Anglo American South Africa (AASA) was the largest and longest established gold mining company in South Africa throughout the 20th century, operating 12 mines within its group. AASA is a wholly owned subsidiary of global mining giant Anglo American plc...The company is no longer involved in gold mining but it is a major producer of diamonds, platinum, iron ore and thermal coal. The most significant of the other companies who are (or have been historically) involved in gold mining in South Africa are: African Rainbow Minerals; AngloGold Ashanti; Gold Fields; Harmony; and Sibanye Gold...The South African mining industry had an appalling safety record: approximately 69,000 mineworkers died in accidents between 1900 and 1993, and more than 1 million were seriously injured Mineworkers with chronic silicosis are unable to continue working. They and their families are often left destitute and have very limited or no access to screening and medical facilities, especially in rural areas, where most former mineworkers live. The gold mining companies have long proposed to help identify those ex-mineworkers across Southern Africa who are eligible to claim compensation for illness – but they have not yet done so. This is typical of the way in which the gold mining industry has failed to live up to its responsibilities towards its former employees.

ACTSA [Action for Southern Africa] demands that the mining companies which profited from South Africa’s gold urgently provide proper medical screening, decent financial compensation and healthcare, and adequate support for all ex- and current mineworkers suffering from silicosis and TB...

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18 May 2017

So. Africa: Settlement in silicosis class action lawsuit by mineworkers against gold mining companies expected by year-end

Author: Jade Davenport, on Mining Weekly (So. Africa)

"Settlement likely by year-end as parties in silicosis case pursue out-of-court option", 5 May 2017

Mining companies facing a class action suit from mineworkers who developed silicosis on South Africa’s gold mines are expected to reach an out-of-court settlement before the close of the year. The class estimated 100 000 former and current mineworkers who developed the disease...after 1965...A settlement...could be a significant victory for both parties, given that, in a case as complex as this one, the legal class action process could drag on for up to 15 years...[Silicosis] is caused by the inhalation of microscopic dust particles of crystalised silica – a mineral prevalent in South African gold orebodies – which, over an extended period, causes scarring of the lung tissue, making it difficult for the patient to breathe...[Sibanye Gold, Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, AngloGold Ashanti, Anglo American and African Rainbow Minerals are part of a] working group...addressing issues relating to the monitoring and medical care of mineworkers, and compensation paid to those infected...

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16 February 2017

So. Africa: Mineworkers likely to settle lawsuit over compensation for health damage against gold mining companies

Author: Greg Nicolson, Daily Maverick (So. Africa)

"Silicosis: Mining companies point to settlement", 15 Feb 2017

...Occupational Lung Disease Working Group chairman Graham Briggs was confident a settlement would be reached this year with mineworkers who have launched class action suits against more than two dozen gold mining companies...If the cases proceed in court they could take over a decade to resolve...The Working Group represents six large mining companies, African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony, Goldfields and Sibanye...Briggs was confident a settlement might be reached in 2017 because he said engagements between the claimants’ lawyers, unions and government had been positive...Charles Abrahams...which has been working on the class action...said settlement discussions continued in good faith.  According to representatives of both mineworkers and mining companies, current compensation discussions include potentially compensating workers who have contracted silicosis and tuberculosis, as well as the dependents of employees who have passed away.  Abrahams said it would be in his clients’ best interest if a decent settlement is reached out of court...For now, it seems an out-of-court settlement is likely...

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20 October 2016

So. Africa: NGO says Women's "invisible" labour in sustaining mining labour force in communities affected by silicosis hardly recognised

Author: Tanya Charles, Sonke Gender Justice, in GroundUp (South Africa)

"Silicosis case: thousands of women could lose out", 20 Oct 2016

In the pending lawsuit against South Africa’s entire gold mining industry, thousands of women stand to lose out on the compensation due to the dependants of deceased miners because the care work they have done to sustain the mining labour force is invisible...South Africa’s gold mining industry has always profited from the deadly toil of black mine workers. What is seldom discussed is how they have also benefited from the unseen and undervalued parallel work of the women and children in labour-sending communities where mineworkers come from...Sonke Gender Justice is entering the second phase of research aimed at making visible the burden that rural women have had to shoulder because the industry has failed in its duty not only to prevent miners from exposure to the silica dust that causes silicosis, but also to provide adequate medical care after they have become sick...

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23 September 2016

So. Africa: Mining companies granted leave to appeal silicosis class action decision

Author: Pete Lewis, GroundUp (South Africa)

"Setback for gold miners’ silicosis claims", 22 Sep 2016

South Africa’s six biggest gold mining companies have been given leave to appeal against the court decision in May to allow mineworkers sick with silicosis and TB to bring a class action against them.  The Supreme Court of Appeal has granted the mining companies leave to appeal on all aspects of the certification by the South Gauteng High Court of the “big bang” common law class action brought by miners and former miners...The action concerns some 250,000 to 500,000 sick mineworkers or former mineworkers and their families, spread out over the entire Southern African region.  They will now have to wait while the appeal process, which could go all the way to the Constitutional Court, is concluded...

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20 July 2016

So. Africa: Gold mining companies appeal to Supreme Court over class action decision in silicosis lawsuit

Author: Cecilia Jamasmie,

“South African gold firms file plea to appeal lung disease class action”, 15 Jul 2016

Six South African gold miners filed petitions on Friday to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to review a May ruling allowing the country’s biggest-ever class action to go ahead.  African Rainbow Minerals…, Anglo American South Africa…, AngloGold Ashanti…, Gold Fields…, Harmony Gold…and Sibanye Gold…, are hoping the SCA will overturn the country's High Court decision to allow two separate classes — one for silicosis and the other one for tuberculosis…[T]he firms said they were conscious of concerns that the appeal would delay a final verdict. However, they noted they believe a review was necessary as the May judgment "addresses a number of highly complex and important issues."…The suit, first filed in 2012, alleges the named companies knew of the dangers posed to miners by silica dust for more than a century and lists 12 specific forms of neglect and endangerment...

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5 July 2016

Silicosis and tuberculosis on the gold mines

Author: Sarika Doodnath, Helen Suzman Foundation (So. Africa)

…The silicosis and tuberculosis case was brought in 2004 and it and has still not been resolved.  However, the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg has agreed to the first class action for sick employees in South Africa, allowing these workers to claim from several mining companies…This court case will be historic for the mining industry as well as for workers’ rights in South Africa.  In the Johannesburg High Court in October 2015, it was said that the 32 gold companies involved that owned or operated 82 different gold mines knew that they were putting the miners’ lives at risk for more than a century…Each mining company is held liable separately for any of the damages they caused…These mining companies together have formed the Occupational Lung Disease working group to deal which issues such as these.  The claims go back decades and also involve thousands of former miners from neighbouring countries such as Swaziland…The suit has been taken to court again. May's class action is believed to have paved the way to justice for these miners.  The size and the scope of the class action is unprecedented…The gold mining companies have challenged almost every aspect of the judgement…[Refers to African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Gold]

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Author: Observatoire des multinationales (France)

« Les mineurs sud-africains atteints de silicose lancent une « class action » géante pour obtenir justice », 22 juin 2016

En Afrique du Sud, des milliers de mineurs ou de familles de mineurs atteints de silicose ont été autorisés à lancer une gigantesque actions de groupe contre trente compagnies minières. Le montant potentiel des réparations en jeu se chiffre en milliards, à la hauteur du drame humain qu’a représenté l’exploitation des ouvriers noirs dans les mines sud-africaines, sous l’apartheid et jusqu’à aujourd’hui…

L’article rappelle que les risques de la silicose ainsi que les solutions (masques et aération des mines) étaient connus depuis le début du XXe siècle, mais que rien n’a été fait…

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28 June 2016

So. Africa: High Court rejects gold mining companies’ appeal in silicosis class action

Author: Franny Rabkin, Business Day Live (So. Africa)

“Gold mining companies refused leave to appeal silicosis judgment”, 24 Jun 2016

The High Court in Johannesburg on Friday refused gold mining companies leave to appeal its landmark silicosis judgment, saying the certification of a class action — a procedural step — is "not appealable"…[T]he judgment clears the way for the silicosis litigation to go ahead…The class action could mean billions of rand worth of claims on behalf of the 17,000 to 500,000 mine workers and former mineworkers suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis…[T]he judges acknowledged the case was unprecedented and complex, but an appeal would unduly delay the class action from going ahead, which could lead to the mineworkers suffering irreparable harm…The applications for leave to appeal were brought by Gold Fields, AngloGold Ashanti, Anglo American SA, DRDGold, African Rainbow Minerals and Harmony Gold.  Argument was heard on Thursday.

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