Miners win test case on disease

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Thousands of miners and ex-pitmen suffering from an industrial disease known as Vibration White Finger (VWF) will be able to seek compensation after a test-case judgment yesterday.

Lawyers and trade unions anticipate claims against British Coal could total many millions of pounds after Mr Justice Stephenson ruled that the corporation should have known of the risks of VWF resulting from power tools used in mining from the beginning of 1973.

The judge also told the hearing at the High Court in Newcastle-upon-Tyne that from that time the Corporation should have had in place a system of preventative measures, including warnings and routine examinations.

Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which had backed the nine miners in the case, welcomed the decision as a "tremendous victory".

Mr Scargill said the case had cleared the way for thousands of other sufferers to claim damages for Vibration White Finger; he estimated that there could be more than 100,000 potential claimants, with a possible final bill for damages of pounds 150 million.

The union is advising past and present miners, who were members of the NUM, to contact their local branch office. Potential claimants will be put in touch with lawyers handling the action on behalf of the NUM.

The judge's decision was based on legal principles placing a duty on employers to keep reasonably abreast of developing knowledge and not to be slow to apply it. In 1967, British Coal carried out a limited survey which was criticised as inadequate at the time but was relied upon by the corporation as demonstrating the absence of any problem in the industry. The judge said that if an adequate survey had been carried out it at that time it would have indicated there was evidence suggesting a problem which required investigation.

The Vibration White Finger Litigation Solicitors' Group said that almost 500 other cases are waiting to be heard as a result of the test case and many more were expected to pour in.

VWF Helpline: 0800 138-0088