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Issue 25
, 2010
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Trafigura faces 105m legal bill over dumping of toxic waste

Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Source: The Independent, UK, Date: , 2010

One of the world's biggest oil-trading companies is facing a record legal bill of more than 100m over the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast.

The figure was disclosed in court yesterday after British lawyers won a multimillion-pound settlement for the Ivory Coast claimants, who fell ill after toxic waste was deposited near the country's commercial capital in 2006.

Mr Justice MacDuff, the judge who formally approved the confidential settlement last year, was told that the 105m legal bill was more than twice the previous record and three times the amount to be paid to the claimants in compensation.

Martyn Day, a senior partner of Leigh Day & Co, the London law firm incurring the costs, said it had fought a "long and tough" battle with Trafigura which had required investigations in a war-torn country.

Mr Day told The Independent: "This was the largest injury case in British legal history, fought against tough opponents right to the doors of the High Court."

He said 16,000 of the claimants had already received their share of the 30m compensation and the remaining 13,000 would be paid by 23 May.

He added that 10m of the legal bill was after-the-event insurance, 10m went on travel expenses and expert reports, 45m on paying solicitors and barristers and another 45m on the "success fee" which allows lawyers to increase their fees on the basis of the risk of the litigation.

Trafigura's QC, Sean Wilken, told the High Court that Trafigura's own costs stood at 14m while describing Leigh Day's bill as "staggeringly high".

The claims were launched against Trafigura after an incident in August 2006 in which "slops" were deposited near Abidjan, the African country's commercial capital, from the Probo Koala, a ship hired by Trafigura. Thousands of people claimed they had fallen ill as a result.

The oil trading firm said it regretted the incident but did not accept legal liability as the dumping was carried out by a ship contractor which acted independently of, and without any authority from, Trafigura.

When the case was settled, a joint statement was issued which said that more than 20 independent experts in shipping, chemistry, modelling, toxicology, tropical medicine, veterinary science and psychiatry had been "unable to identify a link between exposure to the chemicals released from the slops and deaths, miscarriages, still births, birth defects, loss of visual acuity or other serious and chronic injuries.

"Leigh Day & Co, in the light of the expert evidence, now acknowledge that the slops could at worst have caused a range of short-term low-level flu-like symptoms and anxiety."

It concluded: "It remains Trafigura's position that it did not foresee, and could not have foreseen, the reprehensible acts of Compagnie Tommy in dumping the slops in and around Abidjan in August and September 2006, and that Compagnie Tommy acted entirely independently of, and without any authority from, Trafigura.

"Nevertheless, Trafigura regrets that this incident occurred and is pleased that the matter has now been resolved."