Personal Injury

Final settlements reached in WV mine explosion, criminal charges likely to follow

Alpha Natural Resources, the new owner of West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine, has settled with the remaining families of the miners who were killed in an April 2010 explosion, believed to be the worst mining disaster in 40 years. The 13 families who hadn’t reached an agreement with Alpha or the mine’s previous owner, Massey Energy, accepted settlement offers after more than four days of talks with a mediator, according to the Charleston Gazette. The 16 other families either settled with Massey before the Alpha buyout or reached agreements with the new owner. Details of the latest settlements, including amounts paid to the families, were not disclosed, but are believed to be much higher than Massey’s offer of $3 million per family, which it offered in the weeks after the deadly explosion.

With compensation matters settled, the families now set their sights on justice in the form of criminal prosecution of the Massey leaders they believe to be responsible for the deaths of their loved ones.

“Compensation is one thing, but justice is another,” the Charleston Gazette quoted one plaintiff’s attorney as saying. “Based on what happened at this mine, there is not going to be justice until some people are indicted and some people go to jail.”

Government investigators have cited Massey repeatedly for safety violations throughout the years, and blamed the Upper Big Branch mine explosion on the company’s culture of reckless disregard for federal safety regulations. According to the Charleston Gazette, one Massey employee is serving time in connection with the Upper Big Branch disaster.

Thomas Harrah received 10 months for faking his foreman’s license while performing safety tests at the mine. Another Massey employee, Hughie Elbert Stover, a longtime security chief at Upper Big Branch, was convicted of lying to investigators and destroying evidence. He is awaiting sentencing.

Other executives may face criminal charges, possibly including former Massey CEO Don Blankenship, who some critics allege channeled his energy and personal money into protecting his company’s profits at the expense of his workers’ safety.

“We’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish,” one attorney for two of the plaintiffs told the Charleston Gazette. “This is a milestone for our clients. They have the benefit of closure in the civil context. We are hopeful that the United States Attorney will vigorously move forward toward final justice.”


Charleston Gazette