Recently in neighboring Kentucky, a coal mine worker was killed in a mine formerly owned by Massey Energy Company. The 26-year old man, Ryan Thatcher, died from injuries suffered while hauling supplies on a rail locomotive through the Voyager No. 7 mine. The cause of the fatal injuries was reported to be an overcast beam from the mine’s roof. Mr. Thatcher had worked at the mine for two-and-a-half years, and as a mine worker for six years total.
Massey Energy Company once owned mines in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. Before being purchased by Alpha Natural Resources earlier this year, it was in the news quite a bit for its record of safety violations and worker fatalities. The most recent was the Upper Big Branch mine explosion on April 5, 2010 in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The deadliest accident in 40 years, it claimed the lives of 29 miners. The explosion occurred after high methane levels were reported in the mine, though some believe that the cause may have been a large amount of coal dust. A later investigation revealed that Massey Energy had repeatedly failed to meet safety standards from the Mine Act of 1977. On June 29, 2011, the Mine Safety and Health Administration reported that Massey Energy pressured mine workers to lie in safety books that were shown to inspectors. Massey Energy kept a second set of books that detailed the actual safety hazards.
Coal mining is one of West Virginia’s oldest traditions. West Virginia produces more than 158,000 tons of coal each year, second only to Wyoming. Generations of families have worked in the coal mines. It is hard work and has natural dangers associated with it, which is why it is essential for coal mining companies to ensure that no unnecessary risks are taken with mine safety.
We at the Wolfe Law Firm give our condolences to the young mine worker who died in the Kentucky mine, and hope that Alpha Natural Resources seizes the opportunity to inspect all of its mines, including in West Virginia, to ensure that they comply with safety standards. Even so, Alpha Natural Resources is just one mine owner. It is unknown to what extent other companies comply with mine safety laws.
If your loved one was injured or killed in a coal mining accident, you should find a West Virginia personal injury attorney to help obtain relief. If your loved one was injured and the employer has workers compensation insurance, he or she should be entitled to receive payments for his injury. Workers compensation is granted on a no-fault basis, so that the issue of negligence does not come into play. Those who receive workers compensation give up their right to sue for the injury. Most companies are required by law to carry workers compensation insurance.
If, by chance, your loved one worked for a company that does not carry workers compensation insurance, or the injury was caused by equipment produced by a third party, he or she can sue for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other types of injury. A personal injury attorney would know how to obtain records and witness testimony so that you both could determine whether the accident was the result of employer/third-party error. If your loved one was killed, you could sue the coal mine company for wrongful death. In a successful wrongful death suit, you could collect a money award for loss of support and services, medical expenses, and other types of injury. You might also be able to obtain punitive damages if you could show that the company’s behavior was intentional or grossly negligent. If the death occurred in a mine formerly owned by Massey Energy, you would have a very good chance of meeting this standard.