Recent Data Shows That Coal Mines Have Increased in Safety Since Upper Big Branch Disaster in West Virginia

safety_helmet.jpgFor a change, some welcome news has come from the coal mining industry. Ever since the disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 people, coal mines have been growing safer. That had previously been the case for two decades, but the industry reached a troubling plateau in 2010. Then came the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the deadliest in 40 years.

Yet so far in 2011, the data has been improving. Measured by hours of inspection time, there has been a 12% drop in the number of serious mining accidents during the first three quarters of the year. This came after the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) got involved, closing down some of the biggest offenders and shutting some mines temporarily until improvements could be made. Then there are efforts like those of the National Mining Association, which will be launching a program in which mining companies with poor safety records can collaborate with and learn from the companies with strong records. If the effort is successful, the number of accidents will continue to decrease. Of course, there is still work to do. As many as 14 people have died in coal mining accidents this year. Some people have noted that fewer violations does not mean that mining companies are obeying safety regulations. Phil Smith of the United Mine Workers for America noted: “There are still many mines out there which are not following the law and appear not to care to do so.”

Coal mining has a long, proud history in West Virginia, as this recent article illustrates. It is definitely not a job for the faint hearted: spending most of the day in dark underground tunnels that can be as narrow as 42 inches. Coal mining companies should be doing everything possible to ensure they don’t add to the danger. We at Wolfe Law Firm are pleased to see members of the industry taking safety measures more seriously.

If you or your loved one are injured in a coal mining accident, you might consider hiring a West Virginia personal injury attorney to get relief for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. You can sue the employer directly for negligence if it does not carry workers compensation insurance. If your employer does carry workers compensation insurance, you must accept workers compensation payments in place of a lawsuit. Workers compensation provides fixed payments to take the place of your wages until you recover. It is provided when a worker is injured on the job regardless of whether the worker was at fault. You may still be able to sue for negligence if your injury were caused by a third party, such as the manufacturer of faulty equipment.

If your loved one died in a workplace accident, especially a coal mine, you could sue for wrongful death. You would argue that the employer was negligent for failing to follow safety regulations and the employer’s violations resulted in your loved one’s death. If you succeed, you could get a money award (“damages”) just as you could if your loved one were injured. It would cover medical and funeral expenses, loss of earnings, and mental anguish. In West Virginia, you could also get punitive damages, but only if you could prove that the employer’s actions were intentionally or grossly negligent.