Leigh Day & Co, acting for the more than 450 miners, said the claim against the largest gold miner in South Africa potentially involved hundreds of millions of pounds.
“The miners allege they are suffering from silicosis and silico-tuberculosis from exposure to dangerous levels of dust on the company’s South African gold mines,” the firm said in a statement.
There was also a claim from unnamed underground black miners alleged to have contracted the same disease prior to 1998.
The matter was brought before the London High Court as AASA was under the management of UK-headquartered Anglo American plc.
Under European law, English courts have jurisdiction over a company that has its central administration in England.
Leigh Day & Co argued that bringing the case in the UK was in the victims’ interests as proceedings would be speedier. This was because English courts had well-developed case management procedures, “unlike in South Africa”.
Lawyers’ success fees were also paid by the defendant, rather than from claimants’ compensation, and claimants would be entitled to UK damages.
“The case has just started, but given the suffering and poverty of the victims and the length of time this has been going on, Leigh Day & Co hopes a settlement scheme would be established at an early stage.”
The miners’ legal representative, Richard Meeran, said there were similarities between their case and the asbestos suit by 7500 South African miners in 1997. Meeran won in the asbestos case against UK multinational, Cape plc.
He said there were similarities in the nature and causes of the diseases and the measures required to prevent them, namely dust control.
In both instances, there was industry knowledge of the hazard having existed for more than 100 years.
“What we allege is the disregard of the industry, in its drive for profit, for miners’ health,” Meeran said in the statement.
In a statement released on Wednesday, AASA said it acknowledged receipt of the claims filed in the high court but maintained it was not at fault for the miners’ health concerns.
“AASA has denied liability in answer to similar claims filed in South African courts that have been sponsored by the same law firm.
“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.”
It said the individual gold companies which employed the miners were responsible and should have taken reasonable steps to protect them.
The National Union of Mineworkers has expressed support for the miners, saying compensation awarded in terms of the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act had always proved inadequate.
“May Anglo and its ilk sink in the silicosis case,” spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said.