West Virginia Record

Friday, July 19, 2019

First coal mining lawsuit filed after 1880 blast

By The West Virginia Record | Jan 5, 2006

From State Archives:

One of West Virginia's earliest recorded mine explosions occurred in 1880 at a Marion County mine owned by the Gaston Coal Company.

The mine investors included future governor A.B. Fleming, who later defended his coal company. He blamed the explosion on what he termed the carelessness of the miners.

The blast killed two and injured a man named Charles Berns, who filed what is believed to be the first lawsuit in the state involving a gas explosion.

Berns worked as a mule driver, hauling coal out of the mine. He maintained in his lawsuit that the Gaston Coal Company was careless and negligent because it had not properly ventilated the mine. Berns claimed $5,000 in damages.

Berns' case was moved to Taylor County because the Marion County judge felt it was improper for him to preside. In 1883, the Taylor County Circuit Court awarded Berns $2,000.

The case was appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

On Dec. 5, 1885, the State Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision. It was the court's opinion that the facts presented in the case were insufficient to substantiate Berns' claims.

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