A South African court has given permission to thousands of gold miners to pursue legal action against their employers, in what will become the largest class action lawsuit in the nation’s history and may last for up to 10 years.
The miners claim that years of working in the gold mines has left them with silicosis, an incurable disease caused by the inhalation of dust containing silica, which may lead to lung cancer, respiratory failure and other respiratory complications.
These sorts of cases reportedly have little precedent in the South African law, but have been gaining legitimacy since a landmark ruling by the South African Constitutional Court in 2011 that allowed miners with lung-disease to sue their employers for the first time.
The employers being sued by the miners include Anglo American, African Rainbow Minerals, both of which have since moved out of the gold mining industry, AngloGold and three other companies.
These companies had previously formed a group known as Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) working group in order to try and address the health problems within the industry, though they have maintained that they are not responsible for claims brought against them.
Last March a separate case involving 4,400 miners was settled for $30 million, the defendants in that case were Anglo American and AngloGold.