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Three Dahod stone quarry workers succumb to silicosis

Surviving four yet to receive disability benefits

Soumik Dey

Vadodara, April 28: Three of the seven stone quarry workers from Dahod’s tribal belt who contracted silicosis have died while disability benefits from ESIC still remain elusive for the surviving four.

The men were certified by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) of contracting silicosis in September 2004 and had subsequently applied for benefits.

Six months after NIOH confirmed the status of Sailesh Sokha Damor (19), he passed away at his Chittoria village residence in Dahod last Friday. Earlier, two more workers, Nandu Partha and Kasu Galji, passed away. Sailesh’s elder brother Subhash has also been diagnosed with the disease.

According to Jagdish Patel of People’s Training Research Centre (PTRC), Jhoka Surtan’s condition has been deteriorating fast and he might be the next casualty.

All seven men had applied for disablement benefits under PTRC’s advocacy during October. They had contacted the Deputy Director of ESIC’s Vadodara sub-region office.

‘‘The medical board of the corporation visited them during February but none of the seven were summoned by the board to decide on their benefits,’’ said Patel. ‘‘Their benefits might amount to around Rs 1,500-2,000. Their dependents will also be entitled to receive the benefits,’’ he added.

ESIC sources are mum on why the men’s cases were not handled on an emergency basis. ‘‘They do not have the 180 days term of employment required to avail benefits specified under section 52(a) of the ESI Act,’’ said ESIC’s legal department staffer here.

‘‘This is the usual contention put forth by ESIC, even though there are provisions under part-C of the Act’s third schedule that allows for relaxation of the service condition. A resolution was passed in 1992 by the ESI board to include the provision,’’ said Patel.

‘‘The Deputy Director of the sub-regional ESIC office could exercise his rights to apply the provision for individual cases,’’ agree legal cell employees of the corporation here. The number of days of employment for the men range between 72 and 150 days.

The Deputy Director of the corporation was not available for comment but other officers assured that the case would be discussed with him as soon as he returns from New Delhi.

Anglo blasts lawyers' claims

Johannesburg - May 30 2005 - Anglo American will vigorously defend itself against claims by gold miners that they contracted respiratory diseases while working for the mining giant, a company spokesperson said on Monday. Daniel Ngwepe said: "The matter is in the hands of the court.

"We do not believe that Anglo American is liable and we will vigorously defend the claims."

Earlier on Monday, Richard Meeran, a human-rights lawyer for the miners, accused the company of deliberately delaying the case.

He said Anglo would seek further technical challenges to the miners' legal claim on Tuesday - nine months after the case first began in Johannesburg High Court.

The claimants, who are mainly from Welkom, are seeking compensation for gold miners affected by silicosis and phthisis - a combination of silicosis and tuberculosis.

Meeran said: "Anglo American is taking advantage of every technical legal defence to frustrate and delay this case.

"Their tactics are not illegal - Anglo are entitled to take these technical points if they wish, but they are stressful for the miners and their families and are delaying justice to people who need urgent assistance."

The claims relate to employment at various mines which were owned until 1998 by the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa, a parent company which underwent a restructuring in 1999 that resulted in the shifting of its domicile to London.

Edited by Adrienne Taylor

Judge may sway other silicosis suits

Jack's order gives fodder for dismissals

By Neal Falgoust Caller-Times
July 6, 2005 - Daniel Mulholland, an attorney representing dozens of industrial and manufacturing clients in silicosis litigation, said Tuesday he plans to use a ruling by U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack as a foundation in Mississippi state courts to ask that those claims be dismissed.

Jack, who has been presiding over pretrial testimony in 111 silicosis cases with more than 10,000 clients, signed an order on Thursday criticizing much of the medical evidence used to make those claims. Though she had jurisdiction over just one of the cases, her ruling could affect the 110 other cases because they involve medical diagnoses from many of the same doctors.

Jack said those diagnoses were "more about litigation rather than healthcare."

"These diagnoses were driven neither by health nor justice: They were manufactured for money," she wrote.

Representatives of the plaintiffs did not return calls.

The silicosis cases landed in Jack's court after being filed in state and federal district courts around the country. Defense attorneys asked to have them all moved to the federal system, and they were consolidated in Jack's court for pretrial proceedings.

During a three-day hearing in February, defense attorneys began an assault on the methods doctors used to diagnose the plaintiffs in the cases, who were claiming to have suffered from silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease cause by long-term exposure to crystalline silica dust. That dust is found in sandblasting, concrete demolition and the production of paint and fiberglass.

The disease can be diagnosed through a lung X-ray, a physical examination and a review of a patient's work history.

But the defense attorneys reported uncovering a pattern in which plaintiff lawyers partnered with doctors and screening companies to farm clients for lawsuits. The doctors routinely diagnosed hundreds of patients in a single day, and in some cases, one of the doctors allowed his secretary to write and sign the diagnoses without his review, officials contended.

One of the screening companies used a portable X-ray set up in the parking lot of a Sizzler restaurant to diagnose plaintiffs.

Of the 111 cases in her court, Jack sent 90 back to state courts in Mississippi for further proceedings. Mulholland said Tuesday that defense attorneys will be asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to consolidate those cases for pretrial purposes.

"Whether or not this relief is granted, we will seek dismissals based on Judge Jack's order," he said.

An Aug. 22 hearing will be held in Jack's Corpus Christi courtroom to determine how the remaining cases will be handled.

In the one case she had jurisdiction over, Jack ruled that the testimony from the doctors was unreliable and could not be used as evidence. That case also will be the subject of the Aug. 22 hearing to determine how it will proceed.

William Shelley, vice chairman of the National Insurance Litigation Department at the Cozen O'Connor law firm in Philadelphia, said Jack's ruling will draw national attention and will likely be used to push for reform of mass tort litigation.

Shelley said Jack's findings also set a standard for other judges who find themselves overseeing similar cases in which screening companies and plaintiff attorneys assemble clients for massive lawsuits.

"This is the first case where a judge has really looked in close detail at this screening process," he said. "She ferreted out the abuses used in these mass screenings."

Contact Neal Falgoust at 886-4334 or falgoustn@caller.com


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