South African gold firms file plea to appeal lung disease class action

Sibanye’s Kloof operation. (Image courtesy of Sibanye Gold)

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 (JSE:ARI), Anglo American South Africa (LON:AAL), AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU), Gold Fields (NYSE, JSE:GFI), Harmony Gold (NYSE:HMY) and Sibanye Gold (NYSE:SBGL) (JSE:SGL), 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.

African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye Gold said they’d prefer a settlement over prolonged litigation.

In an e-mailed statement, the 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 companies restated they believed achieving a mutually acceptable comprehensive settlement, which is both fair to past, present and future employees, and sustainable for the sector, was preferable to protracted litigation.

Incurable disease

The claims go back decades, which explain why Anglo American, which no longer has any interests in gold mining, and African Rainbow Minerals, which no longer operates gold mines, were named in the suits.

Research indicates the miners caught silicosis, which has no known cure, from inhaling silica dust while drilling rock. The dust lodges in the lungs and causes permanent scars.

Symptoms include persistent coughing and shortness of breath, and the disease regularly leads to tuberculosis and death.

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, including wilfully ignoring and/or failing to execute almost all of the recommended steps mandated in regulations and legislation designed to protect the miners from silica dust.

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