South Africa, Johannesburg

A South African lawyer representing over 3,000 miners with lung disease has filed a plea before the Johannesburg High Court to sue leading mining companies operating in the country for negligence.

Thousands of miners in the country allege that they contracted silicosis while working for mining companies including AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony.

Mining companies would face the possibility of paying billions of dollars in damages if the court recognises this case fit for a class action.

Attorney Charles Abrahams believes this will be the largest damages suit in the history of the country if it goes ahead, reports Reuters.

As per the documents filed by the attorney, about 320,000- 500,000 gold miners in South Africa have contracted lung diseases such as silicosis in the past few decades.

Silicosis, characterised by shortness of breath, persistent cough and chest pains, has no known cure and exposes the individual to tuberculosis, which can be fatal.

AngloGold Ashanti spokesman was quoted by the Guardian as saying that the company is currently assessing the claim filed at the South Gauteng court and will respond through the appropriate court procedures.

"Where occupational lung disease is concerned, we are focused on continually improving the health and safety of our employees and have been working to improve the management of dust underground and to reduce exposure so as to prevent incidences of silicosis. A healthier, safer workforce is central to our business ethos," the company said.

"While progress has been made, we recognise that silicosis-related compensation must be reviewed to address inadequacies in the system as previously identified by the constitutional court."

Image: A plea before the Johannesburg High Court is seeking damages from mining companies in South Africa. Photo: Barsav