The number of wrongful death actions against the owner of a West Virginia (WV) mine that was the scene of an explosion a year ago that killed 29 miners, has climbed to 10.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the lawsuits have been filed against Massey Energy Co., owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, by families of deceased miners. Under West Virginia state law, some claims had to be filed within a year of the accident.
A year ago the deadly explosion blasted through more than two miles of the mine. It was the worst U.S. coal mining accident in 40 years and it led to moves to improve federal mine-safety laws.
The lawsuits follow claims of widespread failures by Massey in the way the mine was run.
"It is without question that the prevention systems failed, and that includes company inspections and government inspections," Davitt McAteer, former head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration told the Wall Street Journal. McAteer was appointed by former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin to conduct an independent investigation,
He has put the explosion down to failures both by the company and federal and state safety regulators.
The Wall Street Journal article refers to past criminal probes of mining accidents, including a 2006 fire that killed two miners at another Massey mine.
Last month we detailed how two wrongful death lawsuits had been filed following the deaths of miners Joe Marcum and Adam Morgan at Upper Big Branch, West Virginia.
The families claim the Upper Big Branch Mine was run in a reckless and unsafe manner. It claims there were federal regulation violations, criminal negligence, and possibly even bribery of regulators. Another miner who escaped the tragedy with his life but was seriously injured has also filed a personal injury lawsuit against Massey.
Massey has settled seven other wrongful death cases following the disaster - all for $3 million.
The Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy isn't the only disaster to hit West Virginia miners in recent years.
On January 2, 2006, an underground explosion trapped 13 miners in a tunnel in the Sago Mine. Of those 11 perished.
Lawsuits have centered around numerous safety violations before the explosion including a lack of safety packs, no anti-lightening equipment, and poorly functioning seals.
See this video of a speech by Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, on the safety implications of the Upper Big Branch mine.