Miners set to win £3bn in UK's biggest lawsuit

A settlement of up to £3bn is expected this week in Britain's biggest-ever personal injury case, compensating thousands of miners who suffer from chest diseases after years in the pits.

Lawyers from Hugh James, Irwin Mitchell and Thompsons for the miners, and Nabarro Nathanson and the Department of Trade and Industry's legal department for the Government, are working round the clock to hammer out the details.

Peter Evans of Hugh James says there are some minor points outstanding but, after 10 years, “it will substantially be done”.

Both this Government and – particularly – the previous administration, dragged their feet, he says, but the recent mood in negotiations has been co-operative.

The settlement, thought to be about £18,000 per miner, will make provision for up to 100,000 miners, around 65,000 of whom are already part of the claim.

One of the points still to be agreed is whether British Coal will compensate miners who worked prior to 1954, when the statute of limitations changed to three years from the knowledge of an injury rather than the date of the injury itself.

The case, led by Justice Turner under the Woolf rules, has involved the use of a new computer programme commissioned by Hugh James, which worked out compensation via a series of formulas.

The amount of damage to a miner's respiratory system was tested by the man breathing into a peak flow meter, and then calculated with variables such as his age, time underground and his smoking history, to produce a figures for compensation.

“We turned a medical prognosis into a mathematical model,” Evans says. “I'm sure this kind of thing will be used in other cases and become more common.”