A French court on Friday ordered the state to pay a total of 7.3 million euros ($ 8.9 million) to 727 former coal miners for anxiety caused by them through exposure to toxic substances.
The case could set a precedent for other former miners or people working in hazardous environments without protection.
“Anxiety injuries”, previously granted to those who have been exposed to asbestos, enable compensation for people who are not ill but who may become ill due to previous exposure.
The labor court in the northern city of Douai found the state responsible for the anxiety of 727 former workers from the Lorraine region coal mines – the last to work in France – and ordered payments of 10,000 euros to each.
The miners welcomed the decision, following eight years of legal proceedings following a complaint lodged in 2013 by a miner.
France nationalized its coal mines after World War II and produced tens of millions of tonnes a year during the post-war period. The Loire region closed in 1973 and the Calais region in 1990. The last French coal mines closed in 2004, in the Lorraine region.
Former miners testified that they were exposed to inhalation of toxic products such as mineral dust, coal, silica and asbestos fibers – as well as gases and vapors associated with mining, blasting, boiler rooms, power plants and coking plants.
They said they did not receive sufficient protection, even though the health hazards with the products had been known for several years. They said their state-owned employers were aware of the risk and that mining company leaders were lobbying for regulation requiring more protection.
The court found that the employers did not fulfill their obligations to protect the workers.
The state has two months to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.