Disaster Strikes in West Virginia Coal Mine

29 Killed in Worst Mining Accident in Decades

On April 5, 2010, tragedy struck at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia. The explosion was presumably caused by the ignition of built-up methane gas and highly flammable coal dust. The result was the immediately known death of 25 miners.

Four miners were listed as missing shortly after the blast. After an exhaustive four-day search and rescue mission their bodies were discovered. It now appears all 29 miners died instantly.

Lawsuits Already Filed - Many More Expected

On April 19, the first of what will likely be multiple legal claims was filed against Massey Energy, parent company of the mine operator. This suit, filed by an investment trust fund, specifically targets company executives. Included in the complaint was the mine's alleged history of violating environmental and safety regulations. While it is not yet clear if they directly relate to the explosion Massey was cited 124 times in the past year alone for violations relating to air quality, ventilation, equipment maintenance and allowing combustible materials to accumulate. Civil penalties totaled nearly $200,000.

This first suit revolved around financial issues stemming from the disaster. Two other personal injury related claims are now also pending. One claim involved a preliminary request to preserve evidence related to the disaster. A second claim, alleging wrongful death of a miner, was separately filed. Since two miners survived the blast with unknown injuries they may file their own claims in addition to any future death cases.

It has been reported that Massey has already made significant monetary offers to the affected families. The full nature of those offers is not publicly known but the company claims they will not prohibit any future legal action if accepted.

Akers Law Offices, PLLC, was appointed to perform court related work arising from the Sago mine disaster. The investigation of that explosion took more than twelve months to complete and agency reviews of the Montcoal disaster will likely take just as long if not longer. In the meantime the families of the deceased and injured miners should seek competent legal help. The families may ultimately choose not to file suit and the decision to consult a lawyer does not mean a lawsuit must be filed.

In fact, at this point it frankly appears too early to make any allegations since the exact cause of the disaster is undetermined. However, Massey's offers to the families were obviously tendered after thorough legal review by company lawyers. The families deserve no less than the same opportunity to review their legal options after this incalculable tragedy. Since there is still plenty of time to take legal action, if any, the best thing for everyone to do is to let the families recover as best they can. If and when they decide to review Massey's offers or seek a legal claim the families should do so on their own terms and with the help of their own choosing.