Mine owner may be excluded from Quecreek suit

FIVE years after the high-profile accident that trapped nine workers at the Quecreek mine for days before they were rescued, the mine's owner may or may not be included in a lawsuit eight of the miners involved in the incident have filed.

Donna Schmidt

All but one of what later became known as the "Quecreek Nine" filed a suit, and now Allegheny County, Pennsylvania judge R Stanton Wettick will rule on whether or not mine owner PBS Coal and its affiliates should be included as a defendant, according to local newspaper the Somerset Daily American. The collection of entities make-up two-thirds of the 11 named in the suit.

A pre-trial hearing to determine fault in the incident, which included flooding of the Quecreek mine from the adjacent Saxman mine when a wall was breached, was held on Tuesday this week.

The workers' attorney Howard Messer told the Daily American that he is seeking two other items on behalf of the men: to determine if PBS was a statutory employer as well as issues regarding contributory negligence and the risk assumption.

Regarding the former, PBS has said that because its entity Black Wolf Coal was the mine's operator, and because there is no difference between the two companies from a legal perspective, it should have the same rights - to be protected from liability under workers' compensation.

Additionally, PBS maintains that the workers assumed risk when working underground, especially given existing wet conditions in the shaft at the time, according to the paper.

The plaintiffs in the case are Quecreek miners Harry Blaine Mayhugh Jr, Thomas Foy, John Unger, Robert Pugh, Ron Hileman, Dennis Hall, Roger Shaffer and John Phillippi Jr (the ninth, Mark Popernack, did not include himself). They are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Named defendants are PBS Coals, Quecreek Mining, Consolidation Coal, Dupech, Edwin Secor (professional engineer), JBBS, Mincorp, Musser Engineering, Rose Haven Associates, Roxcoal and WJM Coal.