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31 Jan 2008

Michael Peel, Financial Times

Lawyers in a hunt for big game

[article about collective lawsuits against companies by Martyn Day and his UK law firm Leigh Day] The claim - brought by 12,500 Ivorians who say they were poisoned by toxic chemicals dumped by a ship chartered by Trafigura, the international oil trading business - is one of the largest group lawsuits to hit the English courts….[I]t is a sign of how lawyers…are sniffing out potential opportunities to launch mass litigation against multinationals in areas ranging from personal injury to price-fixing. The Ivorian case centres on an incident in 2006 in which 500 tonnes of waste was allegedly discharged from the Trafigura chartered vessel, the Probo Koala, around the lagoon city of Abidjan. The Ivorian government said the dumping caused poisoning that killed 10 people and led more than 100,000 to seek medical advice…. Mr Day's firm, Leigh Day, has launched a compensation claim against Trafigura that could run into tens of millions of pounds. Court documents submitted on behalf of the claimants say that Trafigura knew - or should have known - that the waste was potentially harmful…. Trafigura disputes that the waste was toxic and denies responsibility for any injury caused…. Trafigura declined to comment further on the case, which is due to come to court next year...Leigh Day's Ivory Coast case may give at least a taste of what is to come if collective actions move into the European mainstream, rather than remaining the preserve of niche firms in turbulent places. Then - whether they think it fair or not - companies will potentially be on more hazardous legal terrain. As Mr Day puts it: "I would hope that in 10 years this would become the norm." [also refers to lawsuits against Cape PLC, BP]