CHARLESTON - One year after one of the worst coal mine disasters in recent history, two more suits were filed by family members of miners who died in the Sago Mine disaster.
The parents and sister of David Lewis filed a case Dec. 29, while relatives of Jesse L. Jones filed a suit Jan. 8. Lulu Belle Jones filed on behalf of the estate of her son, Jesse L. Jones.
The suits make the 14th and 15th concerning the mine disaster. It is the second filed in the name of Lewis, as his wife and ex-wife filed a suit Nov. 21.
On Jan. 2, 2006, an underground explosion killed one miner immediately, and trapped 12 others underground. Eleven of the trapped miners suffocated, among them, Lewis and Jones. The only survivor was Randal McCloy.
McCloy, as well as the estates of James Bennett and Marty Bennett filed a suit in August. The estates of Tom Anderson, Jerry Groves, George Hamner, Terry Helms, Fred Ware Jr., Jackie Weaver and Marshall Winans filed the suits in November, as well as Ann Meredith, James Bennett's daughter, and John Groves, Jerry Groves' brother.
The suits filed by the relatives of Jones and Lewis are similar to 11 filed previously, as each has the same defendants. Defendants are: International Coal Group; Wolf Run Mining Company, formerly known as Anker West Virginia Mining Company; W.L. Ross & Co., LLC; Wilbur Ross, Jr.; Burrell Mining Products, Inc.; GMS Mine Repair and Maintenance, Inc.; CSE Corporation; Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply, Inc.; HD Supply Electrical, LTD formerly known as Hughes Electric Supply, LTD; and Electrotech, Inc.
Both suits state how in 2005, Sago was cited more than 200 times by the Mine Safety and Health Administration for violating federal safety rules, and received an additional 144 citations from state regulators. Ninety-six of the citations were "significant and substantial," which means there was a reasonable likelihood that serious injury would result.
The lawsuit for Lewis blames each defendant, and the rolls they played in the disaster. Among them were the beliefs that WLR and Ross has a duty, which they agreed to under an "Advisory Services Agreement" on Oct. 1, 2004, to provide $500,000 per calendar quarter to provide certain "advisory services" to ICG in connection with the "business of mining, marketing and selling coal."
The agreement impacted the safety practices and conditions of the coal mine.
Burrell and Raleigh provided "Omega Blocks," which were being utilized at Sago as a means of "sealing off an area of the mine wherein the aforesaid explosion occurred."
CSE provided Self-Contained Self-Rescuers, which were being utilized by the miners. Jones suit also states the SCSRs did not function properly, causing the miners to chare oxygen with each other, meaning each miner did not receive enough oxygen, causing suffocation for eleven of the miners.
GMS provided seals, which failed at the time of the explosion. HD Supply Electrical failed to perform electrical services at the mine in a reasonable prudent manner and Electrotech failed to perform electrical services at the mine in a reasonable prudent manner.
The lawsuits also blame ICG for not correcting the initial reports that 12 miners had been found alive. Families of the miners celebrated for almost three hours at a nearby church before they were told there was only one survivor.
ICG maintains that a lightning strike ignited methane gas that had accumulated naturally in a mined-out and sealed-off area.
The family of section foreman Martin Toler Jr. seems to be the only one that has not yet filed a lawsuit.
Allen Karlin is the attorney for Jones, and Catherine A. McGuire is the attorney for Lewis.
Also, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Charlie King set the date for the first of several trials involving the explosion. It has been tentatively been set for July 2008, according to media reports.
"That would not necessarily be the only trial, but it would be the first trial," Karlin, an attorney for several families including Jones, said in an Associated Press report.
The lawsuits were consolidated by King for pretrial matters, but it has yet to be decided if the cases will be heard together.
Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers 06-C-2746 and 07-C-51