The families of two coal miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine blast in West Virginia last year have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the mine’s owner, Massey Energy Co., saying it was a “catastrophe waiting to happen.” The suits were filed a week after Massey’s head of security at the West Virginia mine was charged with impeding investigators probing the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners in the worst U.S. mine accident in four decades.
The families of Joe Marcum and Adam Morgan, who died in the explosion, are seeking compensatory and punitive damages as a result of “the willful, wanton and recklessly unsafe manner” in which Massey operated the mine. The Complaints allege Massey had “an abysmal safety record” and the number of federal safety violations more than doubled between 2008 and 2009 – something then-Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship was aware of.
The suits were filed in the circuit court in Boone County, W.V. A third suit was filed on behalf of Stanley Stewart, a miner who survived the explosion. The final report by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is not expected until later this year, but preliminary findings indicate the mine was not properly treated with crushed limestone to control buildup of explosive coal dust.
The suits also note preliminary findings that water spray nozzles on mining equipment were not operating properly to prevent sparks and reduce coal dust. Two separate suits were filed soon after the blast. Massey reached settlements with seven families of victims. Apparently, according to my information, Massey has offered $3 million to settle any claims against the company. As a matter of interest, Alpha Natural Resources has agreed to acquire Massey and the deal is expected to close in mid-year. The latest suits were filed against Massey and its subsidiary, Performance Coal, which operated Upper Big Branch.
The Complaints note that prior to the explosion, the mine was cited by MSHA 38 times for mine ventilation violations and 37 times for unsafe accumulations of combustible materials (coal dust). It’s alleged that “with the number of mine safety violations which existed and had been allowed to exist … the Upper Big Branch mine was a catastrophe waiting to happen.” Tim Bailey, a lawyer with Bucci, Bailey, & Jarris, located in Charleston, W.V., represents the Plaintiffs in this matter.
Source: Insurance Journal
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