Coal claimants' victory may cost employers pounds 100m

An industrial disease could land employers with a massive bill for compensation.

British industry could face compensation claims worth pounds 100 million or more in the wake of a ground breaking award yesterday to seven former miners.

In a key High Court test case, the ex-pitmen, who are suffering from the debilitating effects of Vibration White Finger, were awarded almost pounds 125,000. The condition is caused by the constant use of heavy machinery and has considerable implications beyond the coal industry.

While the government, as the former owner of British Coal, could now face a bill of pounds 50 million, it is known that the ailment is also suffered by employees in the printing, textile and construction industries. In its worst form, the disease can mean sufferers lose the use of their hands. In less severe instances, it causes the loss of grip, strength and sensitivity.

Tom Jones, of Thompson the solicitors which handled the case on behalf of the seven former miners, believes it could eventually amount as the biggest claim against one employer. The government will now face 500 compensation claims from ex-pitmen.

In an earlier ruling, Judge Jim Stephenson found that from 1 January 1973, British Coal should have known of the risks associated with tools used in the coal mining industry.

He also ruled that from 1 January 1975, there should have been some form of prevention system in place - including warnings and routine examinations. It was pointed out that Vibration White Finger has been known since 1911 and literature was available on the condition from 1954.

Yesterday, the seven men were granted pounds 124,735 with the biggest individual award totalling pounds 41,085 to David Carver of Co. Durham. Two of the nine men who brought the test case were denied damages.

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