UBB survivors taking claims to trial

NINE miners who survived the April 2010 blast at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia are reportedly taking their personal injury lawsuits to trial, claiming the decision last week by owner Alpha Natural Resources to seal the mine is also sealing evidence.
UBB survivors taking claims to trial UBB survivors taking claims to trial UBB survivors taking claims to trial UBB survivors taking claims to trial UBB survivors taking claims to trial

The Upper Big Branch mine.

Donna Schmidt

According to the Associated Press, Ryan Powers, Jason Stanley, Scott Halstead, Kenneth Woodrum, Kevin Brown, Tommy Estep, Dustin Ross, David Shears and Dakota Davis have pending claims but allege Alpha – which took over Massey Energy and the UBB mine in a $US7.1 billion deal last June – is not negotiating in good faith.

In January, the company said it had settled lawsuits with at least seven injured survivors at the same time it had settled death cases but the plaintiffs’ attorney Michelle Parfitt told the news service some of her clients were in the same shuttle car and experienced the same impact as those who had already settled.

Also, the group claims the announcement to close the UBB mine that came on the eve of the accident’s two-year anniversary is to conceal evidence.

All nine plaintiffs have reportedly suffered serious, permanent and debilitating physical and psychological injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, as a result of the blast.

Parfitt told the AP some of the group helped with recovery, administered CPR in attempts to save their friends and now suffered from issues including survivor's guilt.

She said Powers attempted to return to mining three times but was neither physically nor psychologically capable of doing so.

“They're in the worst of ways,” she said.

“They can't move forward. They can't get resolution of their claims.”

While an Alpha spokesperson did not immediately respond to an ILN request for comment, official Ted Pile told the Associated Press the company would decline to discuss the mediations as they were confidential under court order.

“Alpha intends to respect the court's authority and directives,” he told the paper.

The wrongful death lawsuits for the 29 killed in the blast were also not disclosed when they were settled last January.

The plaintiffs claimed in their motion documents filed last week in Boone County Circuit Court that Alpha's stock price rose significantly after the announcement, the AP said.

The plaintiffs said they filed their motion to start evidence gathering following repeated delays by Alpha and attempts to stop liability experts from assisting them.

Also, the attorney reportedly said in the documents, the producer tried to prevent access to “crucial evidence under the guise of mine safety” in its move last week to completely seal the operation.

ILN also sought comment last week from Alpha officials regarding the impetus for the mine’s closure and more details on how and when the operation would be mothballed, which Pile alluded to in his response to the AP’s report this week on the group’s lawsuit advancement.

“We are sealing the mine because the two years in which it has remained open have allowed for the completion of all outside investigations,” he said.

“We never had any intention of operating that mine again.”

Parfitt told the news service the closure “forces us to rely on someone else's evidence” but a motion to prevent the sealing was denied.

To date, four investigations into the UBB blast have been released, including reports from MSHA, the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, the United Mine Workers and an independent panel commissioned by former governor Joe Manchin.

All have in some way concurred that then-owner Massey was at fault, citing worn and broken equipment creating a spark that subsequently ignited accumulated methane gas and high levels of explosive coal dust.

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