Sungula Nkabinde
2 minute read
27 Jun 2016
12:59 pm

Silicosis: High court says no to appeal

Sungula Nkabinde

All parties would rather have an out-of-court settlement.

A view of the Lonmin Platinum mine ahead of the commemoration rally of the second anniversary of the Marikana massacre on August 14, 2014 in Rustenburg, South Africa. Thirty-four miners were killed by police on 16 August 2012 during a violent wage increase protest. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Kevin Sutherland)

The South Gauteng High Court has refused a group of mining companies leave to appeal on the class action decision handed down last month in terms of the certification of silicosis and TB classes. The court did grant leave to a finding amending the common law in respect of general damages claims, but miners’ attorney Richard Spoor says this is a ‘novel’ aspect of the judgement.

“The leave was granted on the transmissibility issue,” says Spoor, “which is transmissibility of claims for general damages, and pain and suffering claims, from the mine worker to their dependents. It’s not really surprising that they got leave on that particular issue.”

Thirty gold mining companies are named as respondents in the so-called silicosis case, with the class action lawsuit affecting between 17 000 and 500 000 members.

Spoor believes the industry will petition the Supreme Court of Appeal judgement, but in the meantime, the class action process will continue. Spoor believes this is the best outcome because delays will only affect the claimants, many of who are old and sickly, while the mining sector does not lose much more than legal fees from having the process drawn out.

Says Spoor: “In the meantime, there is a mountain of documents that needs to be produced and discovered. That is, historical documentation pertaining to what the mines knew, the dust levels in the mines and the manner in which they controlled it. The evidence we need in this case has to be discovered and that’s a long protracted process.”

The Occupational Lung Disease Working Group –  made up of African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye Gold –  said it still hoped to achieve a “mutually acceptable comprehensive settlement which is both fair to past, present and future employees, and sustainable for the sector” as opposed to a protracted litigation.

“Notwithstanding that the companies deny liability for the claims, the Working Group will continue with its efforts – which have been ongoing for more than a year – to find common ground with stakeholders, including the claimants’ legal representatives,” the group said in a statement.

Spoor agrees that an out-of court settlement would benefit the miners most as it is the quickest route to the mine workers getting their due payment.

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