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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Article
24 July 2013

Anglo American silicosis claimants turn to South African courts

Author: Reuters

A British court has thrown out a lawsuit against Anglo American South Africa brought by miners who contracted the deadly lung disease silicosis when they worked in South Africa, saying it did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter. A lawyer for the 2,336 miners said…many of them planned to file papers in the next few days in South Africa seeking damages against the South African unit of the global mining giant. "Anglo American South Africa believes that the court correctly found that the English court does not have jurisdiction to hear this claim," said Anglo American spokesman Pranill Ramchander…The cases to be filed in South Africa will be separate from a class action suit filed earlier this year against the South African arm of Anglo American and 29 other defendants.

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Article
5 February 2013

[PDF] Corporate Legal Accountability Bulletin - Issue 8

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

[Full text of February 2013 issue of the Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin. Refers to lawsuits against Amesys (part of Bull), Anvil Mining (part of China Minmetals), BP, Chevron, Nestlé, Qosmos, Shell, Texaco (part of Chevron), Transocean]

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Article
27 January 2013

Silicosis suit could shutter [South Africa's] gold mines

Author: Susan Njanji, AFP

Already buckling under huge operational costs and seemingly endless labour unrest, some 30 gold mine operators were last month slapped with litigation by thousands of their former employees. The plaintiffs—mostly black migrant labourers…—allegedly contracted the lung disease while drilling gold bearing rocks. Already theirs is the biggest class action in South Africa's legal history…If the miners are successful, it could cost the industry millions of dollars, but mining experts warn it could also cost jobs…[S]ome of the larger operators, already facing a few cases brought by smaller groups of miners, are not taking the latest case lightly.

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Article
28 December 2012

Ex-miners seek silicosis class action vs. South African firms

Author: Reuters

A South African lawyer has moved to file a class action suit against more than 30 gold firms on behalf of 17,000 former miners who say they contracted the debilitating lung disease silicosis due to negligence in health and safety. The companies include…AngloGold Ashanti,…Gold Fields and Harmony Gold. Also named is Anglo American's South African unit…African Rainbow Minerals, one of the companies named, said it was "too soon to discuss the outcome of the matter as none of the merits of the matter has yet been established, let alone tested in court". An Anglo American spokesman said, "We are aware of the case, but Anglo American has not yet been served, so it would not be appropriate to comment any further." AngloGold Ashanti…said…[it] "works to prevent future incidences of occupational lung disease…The health and safety of AngloGold Ashanti employees is central to how we run our business."…Officials from Gold Fields, Harmony and some of the other companies named were not immediately available for comment.

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Article
26 December 2012

S African gold miners gun for mining firms

Author: Ilham Rawoot, Al Jazeera

Four thousand former gold mine workers have filed affidavits in the High Court of South Africa, launching three simultaneous lawsuits against mining giants Anglogold Ashanti, Goldfields and Harmony Gold. The miners, who are all ill with lung disease they contracted while working underground, are suing the mining firms for damages, which are expected to run into billions of rands (millions of US dollars)…Alan Fine, a spokesperson for AngloGold Ashanti, says…while the statutory compensation scheme needs to be improved, the company has established, along with other gold-mining firms, a project designed to assist former miners to be diagnosed and receive assistance in making claims. Harmony Gold and Goldfield opted not to comment.

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Article
1 September 2008

Corporate legal accountability for human rights abuses in South Africa

Author: Charles Abrahams, Abrahams Kiewitz Attorneys (So. Africa)

…The [2002]…Report of the Reparations & Rehabilitation Committee…found that major corporations in the extractive industry generally benefited financially and materially from…apartheid…One of the legacies…that persists…is the desperate situation of ex-gold mineworkers who…were repatriated home by mining corporations when they sustained serious injuries or contracted the deadly silicosis disease or pulmonary-tuberculosis…Plaintiffs…are impoverished…and do not have the financial means to bring cases…before South African courts…[P]ublic interest lawyers who…take on these cases generally come from very small law practices…Law firms acting on behalf of big mining corporations are…well endowed with infrastructure, resources and capacity…[and] have the ability to obtain the services of the best legal counsel...[Therefore] the Bill of Rights…is severely hamstrung by the equality of arms that millions…lack in order to redress the huge socio-economic imbalance that still to this day persists in South Africa as a result of apartheid. [Also refers to Anglo American Corporation, AngloGold Ashanti]

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Lawsuit
1 June 2000

Gold miner silicosis litigation (re So. Africa)

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

On 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 court has yet to rule on the class certification motion.

- “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. – 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