Over the past week, two mine workers were killed in separate incidents. The fatal accidents suggest that while West Virginia mining companies have made some strides in implementing safety measures, there is still a long way to go.
The first fatal accident occurred at the Fork Creek No. 10 Mine in Boone County, owned by Coal River Mining LLC. Johnny Mack Bryant II of Lenore was working on a midnight shift crew, moving a continuous miner, when he was crushed between part of the machine and a mine wall and suffered fatal injuries. Bryant was 35 years old and had over a year’s experience on the job. The second fatal accident occurred at an ICG Beckley underground mine near Eccles. George Byers was near a scoop at the battery charging station, when a second scoop struck the one closest to him, causing it to slide against Byers, fatally injuring him. Byers was flown to a local hospital, where he later died. Prior to these deaths, there had been just two fatalities in West Virginia mines all year.
At this time, it is not clear whether both accidents were the result of faulty equipment or poor safety regulations, or the mine workers’ actions, or both. In the case of the ICG Beckley mine, there have been previous fatalities, with the most recent one in 2010 involving another crushing accident with a machine. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (‘MSHA’) reports that ICG Beckley has accumulated more than 1,400 104(a) penalties and up to $1.5 million in fines. In the past year, the mine that killed Byers had been cited for 192 violations in a six-month period, with 17 considered to be in high or reckless disregard. However, the mine did not meet the threshold standards of MSHA’s Potential Pattern of Violation Program, which required that 25% of the violations be in high or reckless disregard.
Coal mining is a proud part of West Virginia tradition. However, even at the safest mines, it is a job with inherent risks. That is why it is the responsibility of mining companies to ensure that safety measures are complied with, so that the mine workers’ livelihood is not made more dangerous. For too long, too many companies have tried to avoid this responsibility, claiming that it would harm their profits.
If your loved one was killed in a mining accident, you have the option of hiring an experienced West Virginia wrongful death attorney and filing a negligence lawsuit against the company for relief. While a monetary award will never make up for the fact that your loved one is gone, it can at least compensate you for pain and suffering, for whatever medical bills were generated, for loss of companionship, and for loss of future income. You would argue — and in the case of the ICG Beckley mine, you could make a strong case — that the company breached its duty to its workers by failing to follow reasonable safety regulations, and that breach led to your loved one’s fatality. If your loved one is injured badly, but not fatally, you may not be able to sue the company directly. That is because if the company has workers compensation insurance, you are required by law to take workers compensation payments and to forgo any lawsuit.