Several hundred South African former miners have launched court proceedings against Anglo American Plc in London, the latest in a wave of lawsuits and compensation claims over lung disease that could cost the gold industry billions.
Law firm Leigh Day & Co, which has filed similar claims in South Africa, said on Wednesday it had begun proceedings in the High Court on behalf of more than 450 miners who say they are suffering from silicosis and silico-tuberculosis -- lung diseases associated with dust inhalation -- after working in the company's gold mines.
A ruling by South Africa's top court earlier this year, allowing lung-diseased miners to sue their employers, has revived interest in many long-running cases and could, lawyers say, open the door for tens of thousands of former mineworkers to sue South African mining companies at a cost that analysts say could hit $100 billion.
Many black miners worked without respirators and had no access to on-site showers, making them particularly vulnerable to inhaling crystalline silica dust.
Leigh Day partner Richard Meeran said he saw similarities between recent silicosis cases and a case a decade ago in which 7,500 former South African asbestos miners claimed compensation against UK-based Cape Plc.
First, the similarity in the nature and causes of these diseases and the measures required to prevent them, namely dust control; secondly, industry knowledge of the hazard having existed for more than 100 years and thirdly, what we allege is the disregard of the industry, in its drive for profit, for miners' health, he said.
He said the miners hoped for an early settlement.
Anglo American South Africa, the wholly-owned entity being sued by the miners, was one of the world's largest gold miners through much of the 20th century, though its presence in South Africa was long through stakes in a variety of mining firms, meaning it would not necessarily have directly employed the miners. Anglo is no longer active in gold mining.
The miner acknowledged receipt of the notices of claim against its South African unit.
Anglo American South Africa has denied liability in answer to similar claims filed in South African courts that have been sponsored by the same law firm, a spokesman said.
Anglo American does not believe that it is any way liable for the silicosis claims brought by former gold workers and is defending the actions. Anglo American maintains that these gold companies which employed the mineworkers were responsible for the health and safety of their employees and took reasonable steps to protect them.