June 3, 2016 / 10:52 AM / a year ago

South African mining firms to appeal silicosis ruling

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African gold mining firms plan to appeal against a High Court ruling that allowed class action suits seeking damages for up to half a million miners who contracted the fatal lung disease silicosis and tuberculosis, they said on Friday.

Former gold miner Senzele Silewise, 81, diagnosed with silicosis, talks to paralegals in Bizana in South Africa's impoverished Eastern Cape province March 7, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

A High Court decision last month set the stage for protracted proceedings covering cases dating back decades in the largest class action suits yet in Africa’s most industrialized country.

Anglo American, Africa’s top gold producer AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Gold and African Rainbow Minerals, have formed the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) group to deal with such issues.

The group confirmed that the companies had filed individual applications to appeal the class certification judgment handed down on May 13, adding that the firms have been seeking a settlement with the affected workers.

The sun sets behind a shaft outside the mining town of Carletonville, west of Johannesburg, July 7 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“Whilst the companies deny liability for the claims, it is nonetheless the working group’s view that a fair and sustainable settlement is preferable to long and protracted litigation,” the OLD said in a statement, adding that the discussions have been going for more than a year.

Charles Abrahams, an attorney who acted on behalf of the miners, had told Reuters in Cape Town that the companies planned to appeal the court ruling.

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Silicosis is an incurable disease caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks. It causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains, and also makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis.

The court had estimated that more than half a million claimants could be involved in the cases against the firms.

“Assuming a conservative claim of $6,500 per claimant, this approximates claims in the total amount of $3.25 billion,” said Max Ebrahim, an insurance partner at law firm Clyde & Co.

Reporting by TJ Strydom and Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia

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