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Court Deadline Approaching For Former British Coal Workers To Join Group Litigation

Illness Victims Have Until April 2016 To Register For Coking Plants Group Action


Former British Coal workers suffering with lung and skin cancer and respiratory diseases that may have been caused by exposure to harmful fumes while working at coking plants have until April 2016 to register to join the group taking legal action against the company, to avoid losing the chance of pursing a claim.

In July this year, The High Court approved a Group Litigation Order presented by specialist industrial disease lawyers at law firms Irwin Mitchell and Hugh James after they were approached by 350 former coke oven workers suffering health problems related to their employment years ago.

At hearing in the High Court yesterday (16th December 2015) the Court confirmed the closing date for illness victims to register to join the group as the 24th April 2016 and lawyers are urging people affected to sign up as soon as possible to make sure they don’t miss out on access to justice. Anyone suffering from a relevant condition who fails to register by the closing date is likely to lose the chance to pursue a claim.

The workers and relatives affected by these issues were employed by British Coal, Coal Products Limited and National Smokeless Fuels Limited at a number of coking plants around the country, including in Scotland, the North East, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and South Wales. The lawyers handling the case would also like to hear from former British Coal workers in Lancashire.

It is alleged British Coal and their subsidiaries failed to identify the risks associated with workers’ exposure to dust and fumes present at the coking plants and that protective measures were not implemented to prevent workers being exposed to the harmful dust and fumes.

Expert Opinion
“Over the past two years we have been working to gather the evidence needed to ensure every worker affected by the poor management of risks in the coking industry will have their opportunity for justice. The approval of our Group Litigation Order is another step forward and we now urge victims to register before the April 2016 deadline to make sure they don’t miss out on the scheme.

“We have heard first-hand from a number of people who have developed serious and in some cases fatal cancers and respiratory diseases as a result of their employers’ alleged safety failings and there may be others out there who want answers about what caused their illness issues and if those responsible can be held to account.

“Every worker has the right to be able to go to work every day without the fear of exposure to fumes and materials that could cause them serious health issues.”
Roger Maddocks, Partner

Kathryn Singh, Partner and industrial disease specialist at Hugh James which is handling cases in Wales, said: “The approval of the Group Litigation Order back in July was an important step in achieving justice for former coke oven workers in Wales and England. The High Court decision helped to raise awareness of the problem of coke oven-related illnesses, and as a result 150 additional former workers in Wales have come forward to pursue compensation for the devastating illnesses they have suffered.

“However, there are undoubtedly more victims out there, including those who may now have moved to other parts of Wales from the areas where they used to work. We urge anyone affected to contact us urgently for free advice and for their case to be considered before the closing date of the group register on the 24th April  2016.”


Cases against both British Coal and British Steel were able to proceed following rulings in a test case in October 2012 related to National Coal’s operation of a Phurnacite plant in South Wales.

It was ruled that the organisation had failed to protect workers against inhalation of dust and fumes, with protection only being introduced in 1981 after workers had been exposed to the chemicals for a number of decades.

Former coke oven workers also became entitled to industrial injuries disability benefit in August 2012, after a paper from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in September 2011 found the risk of contracting lung cancer increased significantly where employees had spent more than 5 years working on tops of coke ovens or 15 years working on around the ovens.

At a hearing held in October 2014, the High Court was informed of the progress of the claims against British Coal and British Steel. At a hearing in July the High Court made the Group Litigation Order to enable the claims to go forward as a Class Action.

Anyone who believes they or loved ones developed skin or lung cancer, or respiratory diseases following dust and fume exposure at coking plants at sites operated by National Coal Board/British Coal, or its subsidiaries (National Smokeless Fuels, Coal Products) or British Steel or its subsidiaries (including Dorman Long), can contact Irwin Mitchell or Hugh James on 0800 6525524 before the April 2016 deadline.

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