CLARKSBURG – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the relatives of 78 miners who were killed in a 1968 mine explosion near Farmington, W.Va.

U.S. District Judge Irene Keeley ruled that there is a two-year window to file a lawsuit after the disaster, according to her March 31 memorandum opinion.

On Nov. 20, 1968, the Consol No. 9 coal mine exploded and caught fire, resulting in the deaths of 78 coal miners.

For 22 years after the explosion, inspectors from various state and federal agencies conducted multiple investigations into the fire and explosion at the time and, one inspector, Larry L. Layne, who worked for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, filed a memorandum of his investigation on Sept. 15, 1970, in which he reported that the fan alarm system had been bridged with jumper wires so that when the fan would stop or slow down, there was no way for anyone to known because the alarm system was bypassed.

In March 1990, MSHA issued an investigation report that the fan monitoring and mine power cutoff system was not operating properly at the time the explosion occurred, according to the memo.

“Although the Plaintiffs acknowledge that they became aware of Layne’s memorandum sometime in 2008, they allege that it was not until June 9, 2014, that they learned that the chief electrician at the Mine, Alex Kovarbasich, was the person who had rendered the FEMCO alarm on the Mod’s Run fan inoperable,” the memo states. “Thus, they claim that, from November 20, 1968 until June 14, 2014, they never knew the identity of the person responsible for rendering the fan inoperable, nor could they have discovered his identity through the exercise of reasonable diligence. Further, they contend that neither Kovarbasich nor CCC ever disclosed that the Mod’s Run fan was ‘intentionally rendered inoperable by mine management.’”

On Nov. 6, 2014, the plaintiffs brought suit against Consolidation Coal Co. in Marion Circuit Court. It was later removed to federal court.

“Ultimately, the court concludes that the plaintiffs’ wrongful death claim is barred by the then applicable two-year limitation period, and was not tolled by either the discovery rule or the fraudulent concealment doctrine,” the memo states. “Accordingly, the court adopts the [report and recommendation] and grants the defendant’s motion to dismiss.”

The disaster led to passage of the federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number: 1:14-cv-00212

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia Clarksburg Division
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