West Virginia recently had its first coal mining death of 2012. Jeremy Sigler, age 34, died from what is known as a “rib roll” — when the side walls crack and fall into the mine. Last year, six West Virginian coal mine workers lost their lives, and 21 total across the country. So far, three other coal mine deaths have occurred in 2012: one in Virginia and two in Kentucky.
The mine where Sigler lost his life was the Kingston No. 2 Mine, which is owned by Alpha Natural Resources. Alpha Natural Resources acquired Massey Energy Company in 2011, roughly 10 months after Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine was the scene of the biggest mining disaster in West Virginia history. After Sigler was stricken by some of the fallen material, his coworkers tried unsuccessfully to revive him.
Although Sigler’s is the first death of 2012, his is not the first death in a Kingston mine. In October 2010, William Dooley died from falling off of a roof. Following his death, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found that Dooley’s fall resulted from poor management oversight of roof conditions and a failure by management to “evaluate adequately the changing geological conditions.” This time, following Sigler’s death, the MSHA has issued a closure order on the mine while the accident is under investigation.
The MSHA database reveals that both Kingston No. 1 and No 2 Mines have checkered histories with safety compliance. The Kingston No. 2 Mine alone was forced to pay more than $700,000 in penalties due to repeatedly violating the Mine Act over the past decade. In addition, the Kingston No. 2 Mine received 968 citations for violations of the Mine Act, with 130 in 2011 alone.
The fault may not necessarily lie with Alpha Natural Resources, since its Cucumber mine, the winner of safety awards, received its last citation in 2006. However, the Kingston mines’ safety issues are troubling and reminiscent of millions of dollars in penalties, and hundreds of citations, that the Upper Big Branch mine received before the disaster.
We at the Wolfe Law Firm support any efforts to make coal mines safer. While there were fewer accidents and no major disasters in 2011, 21 deaths across the nation are still 21 too many. Coal mining is a proud tradition in West Virginia, but it is hard and dangerous work. The good people who work in the mines every day to support their families don’t need their employers to make things worse.
If you or your loved one are injured while working in a mine, what are your options? Those who are injured during the course of employment usually go on workers compensation leave. By law, employers are required to carry workers compensation insurance. When their workers get injured, regardless of who is at fault, the workers have no choice but to accept workers compensation payments until the worker can return to the job. The worker cannot hire a West Virginia personal injury attorney and sue the employer. However, if the employer lacks insurance, a worker may file a lawsuit, with the understanding that a jury might find the worker to be mostly at fault. In West Virginia, the modified comparative negligence system in place requires a plaintiff in a personal injury suit to be less than 50% at fault for the accident.