JUDGMENT is expected before Christmas on the largest personal injury action ever heard in the UK – the British Coal respiratory disease litigation trial – which could benefit 50,000 ex-miners.

The trial is a multi-party action brought by a group of miners. They allege they have developed chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD) – including emphysema, asthma, and chronic bronchitis – caused by exposure to mine dust and nitrous fumes while working underground at collieries.

The case is being heard by Mr Justice Turner in the High Court. A spokesman from City firm Nabarro Nathanson, which is representing British Coal, said he expected Judge Turner to give a ruling within the next two weeks.

Nabarros has formed a team of 10 lawyers led by senior partner Gareth Watkins to deal with the case, which has so far produced almost 2.5 million documents and 500 lever arch files.

Merthyr Tydfil firm Hugh James, Sheffield firm Irwin Mitchell and Newcastle firm Thompsons have formed a co-ordinating group to handle the case for miners.

About 22 separate solicitors practices throughout England and Wales were originally handling the claims before Hugh James, which was dealing with three quarters of the claims, decided to take a group action approach three years ago.

A total of 119 days was spent in court between October 1996 and April 1997, including a four-week hearing in Cardiff, a three-week trial in Sheffield and a 25-week trial in London.