Reuters/Planet Ark -- British lawyers suing Dutch-based oil trader Trafigura over toxic waste dumped in Ivory Coast are gathering evidence from thousands of victims for what they say will be one of Britain's largest class action cases.
The lawyers from Leigh Day & Co, based in London, are seeking financial compensation for people made ill by the toxic oil slops unloaded from a tanker chartered by Trafigura and dumped around the main city Abidjan in August.
"Our case is straightforward. We say Trafigura was responsible for bringing toxic waste down here to Ivory Coast," lawyer Martyn Day told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
"It was dumped in open dump sites instead of being treated and that toxic waste caused people's injuries."
The poisonous slops were unloaded from the Panamanian-registered Probo Koala tanker before being dumped at 17 mostly open-air sites. Ten people died and thousands were ill with vomiting, diarrhoea, nosebleeds and breathing difficulties.
Trafigura denies any wrongdoing and says it entrusted the waste to an Ivorian disposal company, Tommy, set up weeks before the ship's arrival.
Day said his law firm took on the no-win, no-fee case after being contacted by environment group Greenpeace.
It is seeking cash compensation for the victims through the British courts because Trafigura's London branch had chartered the vessel and bore most responsibility.
"There are probably four or five thousand people who have been seriously affected by the toxic waste dumping so we're going to be coming over here regularly to make sure anyone who wants to join the action can do so," Day said.
A hearing in London on Jan. 29 will determine whether the courts will accept the class action, a means of dealing simultaneously with large numbers of civil suits involving the same defendant and complaint, he said.
Day said the numbers of people involved would make the suit one of the biggest of its kind to be heard in a British court.
Day hopes Trafigura will agree to an out-of-court settlement. He said such a case could involve compensation payments ranging from 1,000 pounds (US$1,950) for mild injuries to 5,000-6,000 pounds for those more seriously hurt.
"People have to have lived close to the (sites) for us to be prepared to take the case on ... We have to prove each individual was injured," Day said.
Ivorian and Dutch authorities have started criminal investigations into the dumping.
A report commissioned by the Ivorian prime minister said in November that port, customs and district officials had been negligent and Trafigura had violated the Basel Convention by shipping toxic substances to a developing country.
Two French Trafigura directors have been detained in Abidjan and face charges under Ivorian poisoning and toxic waste laws.