South African Gold Producers Agree to Settle Lung-Disease Suit
Mining companies including Anglo American Plc agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit from workers who said they contracted deadly lung diseases in South African gold mines.
The agreement provides for compensation for all eligible workers suffering from silicosis or tuberculosis who worked in the companies’ mines at any point since March 1965, the parties said in a statement Thursday.
The six producers last year set aside about 5 billion rand ($396 million) to settle the lawsuit. The settlement will be submitted to South Africa’s South Gauteng High Court for ratification.
The workers say they were negligently exposed to large amounts of silica dust over decades, causing silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis. South Africa’s mines, which have produced a third of all the world’s gold, have drawn in millions of poor, black workers from across the region in the 130 years since gold was discovered.
The mines remain among the world’s deepest and most dangerous even after the end of apartheid rule in 1994, before which safety standards and environmental restrictions were minimal.
There is no limit on the number of potential claimants, the parties. The agreement was reached following three years of negotiations and is the first class action settlement of its kind in South Africa.
“The parties to the agreement believe that a compromise settlement is far preferable for all concerned than an inevitably lengthy and expensive litigation process would be, allowing for claimants more quickly to receive compensation and relief for their conditions,” they said.
Anglo American, African Rainbow Minerals Ltd., AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., Gold Fields Ltd., Harmony Gold Mining Co. and Sibanye Gold Ltd. were represented by the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group. Spoor, Abrahams Kiewitz Inc. and the Legal Resources Centre represented the class members.