FAIRMONT – Nearly 46 years after a Marion County coal mine explosion left 78 miners dead, a class action lawsuit has been filed seeking damages.
In a complaint filed Nov. 6 in Marion Circuit Court, the estates of two of the miners who died in the Farmington No. 9 mine explosion sued the estate of Alex Kovarbasich and Consolidation Coal Company.
In the suit, the estates of Jack D. Michael and Paul F. Henderson claim Kovarbasich, who was the mine’s chief electrician, intentionally made a fan alarm system inoperable and that he was acting as an employee of Consolidation Coal.
Michael D. Michael and Judith A. Kuhn are the two named plaintiffs, suing on behalf of the estates of all 78 miners who died in the Nov. 20, 1968, explosion. They are seeking $110,000 per member of the class action suit as well as interest and punitive damages for the “intentional, grossly negligent and reprehensible actions on the part of the defendants.” The $110,000 amount is the maximum allowed in wrongful death cases in 1968.
The timing of the lawsuit, according to the complaint, is that the identity of the person – Kovarbasich – who disabled the fan alarm system wasn’t discovered until June 9, 2014. Kovarbasich died in 1992.
According to a 1970 memo written by a federal mine inspector, a ventilation fan’s safety alarm was disable prior to the explosion so if “the fan would stop or slow down, there was no way of anyone knowing about it because the alarm signal was bypassed.”
The complaint states that investigators learned a mine fan recording chart was taken from the mine fan box sometime after the explosion.
“The person who absconded with mine fan recording chart presumably broke the glass covering on the fan chart box to take it,” the complaint states. “Immediately after the November 20, 1968, explosion, defendant Alex Kovarbasich was in the vicinity of the Mod’s Run fan shaft.”
The complaint also details the recovery efforts for the 78 miners.
“Mine fires along with several additional underground explosions interfered with and eventually prevented the recovery efforts,” it states. “The mine was sealed at its surface opening on November 30, 1968.
“In September 1969, the mine was reopened and operations to recover the remains of 78 miners were begun and continued until April of 1978. …
“Between 1969 and 1978, the bodies of 59 victims were recovered and brought to the surface. However, recovery operations ceased and all entrances to the mine were permanently sealed in November of 1978, leaving 19 victims buried in the mine.”
Murray Energy now owns Consolidation Coal. A company spokesman said the company would defend any claims related to the accident.
The plaintiffs are being represented by Charleston attorneys Tim Bailey and Mark Barney of Bucci Bailey & Javins as well as Scott Segal and Samuel A. Hrko of The Segal Law Firm. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Michael Aloi.
Marion Circuit Court case number 14-C-318