09/21/2011 08:03 EDT | Updated 11/21/2011 05:12 EST

South African miners sue Anglo American in UK over lung disease

LONDON - A London law firm said Wednesday it has launched legal action in Britain's High Court against mining company Anglo American on behalf of South African miners suffering from lung disease.

The Leigh Day & Co. law firm said the proceedings against Anglo American South Africa — the Johannesburg-based unit of Anglo American PLC — name 450 claimants who allege they contracted silicosis or silico-tuberculosis due to excessive dust in the company's mines.

It also filed a representative claim on behalf of unnamed claimants, the firm added, saying that the claims could be worth "hundreds of millions of pounds (dollars)."

The law firm has been working since 2004 on silicosis claims currently in the Johannesburg high court and said initiating action in the U.K. is in victims' interests as British proceedings "will be speedier" since English courts have well-developed case management procedures.

Anglo American confirmed it had received notice of the claims filed in London's High Court and noted that it has denied liability in response to similar claims filed in South African courts by Leigh Day & Co.

"Anglo American does not believe that it is any way liable for the silicosis claims brought by former gold workers and is defending the actions," company spokesman James Wyatt-Tilby said in a statement. "Anglo American maintains that these gold companies which employed the mineworkers were responsible for the health and safety of their employees and took reasonable steps to protect them."