As Final Report On Upper Big Branch is Released, Alpha Settles and West Virginia Senators Pursue Tough Mining Legislation

hard_hat.jpgDespite the improvements in mining safety, there have still been more than a dozen mining fatalities this year. Just as a settlement has been reached concerning the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion, lawmakers in Washington are hoping that a final investigative report on the tragedy that killed 29 people will renew interest in mine safety legislation.

West Virginia’s Senator Jay Rockefeller is a key supporter of the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act. The Act would increase penalties for significant safety violations, aim to protect whistleblowers, and shutdown “problem” mines. Senator Rockefeller called the legislation commonsense and said that there is “no excuse” for not supporting it. He and Senator Joe Manchin introduced the bill after a similar one failed the previous year in the House of Representatives. At the time, critics claimed that it was premature since the investigation was not yet complete. Now, with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) claiming that Massey Energy Company (previous owner of the Upper Big Branch mine) used “systematic, intentional, and aggressive efforts” to conceal problems that were life threatening, the legislation may get a more serious look.

Meanwhile, Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., the company that bought Massey Energy Company, has agreed to pay $200 million to resolve various civil and criminal penalties linked to the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. The global settlement will not only resolve civil fines issued by MSHA, but will also serve as restitution to families of the miners killed. Some of the money is also expected to be used for mine safety research.

Although the settlement would resolve Alpha’s corporate criminal liability, many believe that prosecutors would still be able to pursue individual Massey former employees and officers. The families’ attorneys also claim that the settlement will have no effect on attempts to mediate wrongful death suits filed for 18 miners.

If your loved one is injured in a mining accident, you have options. If the mining company has workers compensation, you must accept workers compensation payments in place of filing suit against your employer. You will receive fixed payments until you recover from the accident, even if you were partially to blame for it occurring. However, you could also hire a West Virginia personal injury lawyer and file a lawsuit against a third party if it was partially responsible for the accident — such as the manufacturer of faulty equipment.

If your loved one is killed in the mining accident, you could file a wrongful death lawsuit against the employer. You would argue that the employer was negligent for allowing its employees to work in an environment with faulty equipment — even though the employer was well aware that the equipment was dangerous. By allowing its employees to use faulty equipment, the employer breached its duty of care to its employees. The employer’s breach led to the employees’ injury and death. Damages (a money award) for wrongful death include money for loss of support and services and money to pay medical bills. If your loved one died in a tragic mining accident, find an experienced attorney right away. As we at the Wolfe Law Firm say, mining is dangerous enough: mining companies shouldn’t be trying to make it worse.