Judgment has been handed down in a group action brought on behalf of 260 British Coal coke oven workers and their families. It was alleged that workers contracted respiratory diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer, as well as skin cancer, as a result of exposure to harmful fumes at coking plants in England and Wales.
British Coal admitted a breach of duty by failing to protect its employees from exposure to dust and fumes present at the coking plants. Eight test cases were chosen out of the cohort of cases to proceed to trial in order to assist in determining the remaining issues between the parties. The lead cases have been resolved. Following negotiation and resolution of the lead cases, four of which settled before the trial, in what was a welcome approach commented upon by the court, the judge was required to determine two remaining test cases at trial.
Judgment was handed down by Mr Justice Turner at the Royal Courts of Justice, London, on 31 July 2018.
In both cases, it was alleged that the coke oven worker suffered from chronic bronchitis as a result of his coke oven employment.
The judge found that there was sufficient evidence to prove that the worker suffered from chronic bronchitis in one of the remaining two test cases. The successful claim concerned a deceased worker who was employed on the coke ovens at Nantgarw coke works between the 1960s and 1980s.
In the second case, the judge was unable to conclude on the basis of the evidence available that the worker suffered from chronic bronchitis.
As a result of concessions made by British Coal and negotiations between the parties, 89 non-test cases have already settled successfully. It is now hoped that the findings of the judge in the test cases will ensure the swift resolution of the remaining cases within the cohort.
The judgment on behalf of British Coal coke oven workers closely follows the Phurnacite Workers Group Litigation which was brought by Hugh James on behalf of 183 ex-workers of the Phurnacite plant in Abercwmboi, near Mountain Ash. Judgment was handed down by the High Court in 2012 who found that British Coal failed to protect Phurnacite workers from dust and fume causing them to suffer from respiratory diseases.