Lawyers predict a new area of mining liability is emerging

Miner's knee is emerging as the next area of mining liability, according to a lawyer.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell has identified the problem and is investigating claims for work-related knee injuries on behalf of former mine workers.

Prolonged kneeling and crawling can lead to the development of knee injuries, principally osteoarthritis and damage to the menisci. Many coal miners' jobs involved these activities, Irwin Mitchell said.

This follows details released by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to speed up payments through the miners' compensation fund.

Under the plan, widows of miners who died more than 20 years ago will be offered a one-off payment of £1,200.

The DTI said the offer would apply to cases where the death occurred more than 20 years ago because medical records were unlikely to be available, making them difficult to assess. Next of kin will be offered payments of £1,000.

For miners who died more recently, an estimated 112,000 cases, families would automatically receive a full assessment by a respiratory specialist, the DTI said.

These families will also be able to opt-in to the early payment scheme.

"Opting for early payments may be particularly beneficial to those in this group who have limited information about their relative's condition or know the miner's illness was limited to non-disabling chronic bronchitis, for which lower payments, mostly under £1,000, are made," said the DTI.

It estimates that the offer will be attractive to 55% of claimants who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis, and to 70% of chronic bronchitis only claimants.

Coal Health Minister Nigel Griffiths said the proposals provided a "pragmatic solution" to the problem of assessing compensation where there are few records, while offering relatives a faster pay-out.

A hearing into the claims began at the High Court on Tuesday.