Recently, a mining company completed the grim task of pulling a West Virginia mine worker’s body from a coal slurry impoundment, where it had been trapped since the end of November. The mine worker, Markel J Koon, 58, had worked for Consol Energy for nearly 38 years.
On November 30, Koon was operating a bulldozer in order to enlarge the foundation and raise the height of a coal slurry impoundment dam when the section underneath him collapsed, sending him and two engineers into the slurry. Rescue teams were able to pull out the engineers, but Koon remained trapped in the bulldozer, fully submerged in the slurry 20 feet below. The entire impoundment was 78 acres in size and held 1.6 billion gallons of wastewater. Because the slurry was so thick, divers were required to perform a pipe drive recovery, where a four-foot pipe was lowered over the bulldozer and water jets cleared sediment away, allowing divers to access the bulldozer.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the West Virginia Department of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, as well as other parties, are conducting an investigation into what went wrong. Pennsylvania-based Consol Energy does not appear to have the extensive history of safety violations that have plagued other companies, like Massey Energy Company. It might be that the construction collapse beneath Koon’s bulldozer could not have been avoided, or that Koon himself might have performed maneuvers that led to the collapse. Regardless, it is important that a thorough investigation be conducted so that Koon’s survivors can know who is responsible and so Consol Energy can determine how to avoid future tragedies of this nature.
Mining is a time-honored tradition in West Virginia, but it is one that comes with a lot of inherent dangers. Mining companies should do everything possible to minimize those dangers, rather than exacerbate them through neglect. There are many things in this world worth more than how much profit a company earns.
If you were injured, or your loved one injured or killed, in a mining accident, you should hire a West Virginia personal injury attorney as soon as possible to get relief. Your options are different depending upon the nature of the injury. If you were injured while on the job, and your employer has workers compensation insurance, you are required to waive your right to sue and accept workers compensation payments. If you are denied workers compensation payments because your employer or the appeals board is skeptical that you obtained your injury at work, then you will need someone in your corner to argue on behalf of your claim.
If, on the other hand, your loved one was killed while on the job, you have the right, as the survivor, to sue the employer for wrongful death. For wrongful death, you would argue that the employer’s negligence was the direct or indirect cause of your loved one’s injury, which resulted in his or her death. Most likely, you would argue that the employer failed to follow proper safety procedures. As a result, a death that was avoidable took place. In your suit, you would seek general damages like pain and suffering, as well as special damages for specific costs, like medical bills. You might even seek punitive damages if it turns out the employer’s actions were willful.