CHARLESTON – A Webster County couple has filed a lawsuit after the husband injured himself falling over gob at an Upshur County coal mine and had to have hip replacement surgery.
The mine, Spruce Fork Mine No. 1, was a sister mine of the Sago Mine where 12 miners died in the explosion.
John K. Shaffer and Nancy Shaffer filed the lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court against Wolf Run Mining Company and Anker Group Inc.
In the suit, Shaffer says he was working as a mechanic electrician at the Spruce Fork Mine No. 1 underground mine near Buckhannon on Jan. 2, 2004, when he fell over a large amount of excessive gob. The incident coincidentally occurred two years to the day before the Sago mine explosion,
Gob is a pile of loose coal and other minerals extracted from a mine that are not marketable. Gob sometimes is left piled in underground workings or at the surface of the mine.
In the suit, filed by Charleston attorneys Timothy C. Bailey and Dan R. Snuffer, Shaffer says he and co-workers complained about the excessive gob on numerous occasions, including at safety meetings. He claims mine management refused to take action to remedy the situation.
The suit claims the defendants were responsible for the maintenance and inspection of travelways and walkways to ensure they were in a safe condition. That includes removing gob and other material, especially along belt entries in accordance with a written cleanup plan for the mine.
Shaffer says the mine failed to adequately maintain and inspect these travelways and walkways.
"Large amounts of excessive gob were continually present in the travelways and walkways along the belt entries which resulted in much less than the required 24 inches of unobstructed clearance for employees to walk in these areas," he says in the suit.
As a result of his fall, Shaffer says he suffered severe traumatic injury to his left hip which required hip replacement surgery and rendered him permanently impaired with a resulting permanent loss of vocational and social pursuits.
He also says he has suffered and sustained extreme physical pain and suffering, extreme mental anguish and suffering, permanent physical impairment, loss of wages and benefits, loss of future earning capacity and benefits, loss of capacity to enjoy life, medical expenses past and future, annoyance and inconvenience and permanent scarring and disfigurement.
He says the defendants were negligent and acted with deliberate intent.
His wife sues for loss of consortium.
They seek compensatory damages, both general and special, as well as interest, attorney fees, court costs and other relief. The Shaffers seek a jury trial.
Anker was a statewide mining company based in Morgantown. It was acquired by International Coal Group in early 2005.
ICG went public in November and is an amalgamation of bankrupt and other coal mine operations into one company by New York financier Wilbur Ross. Ross has made similar moves with steel and textile companies.
Before the Jan. 2 accident at Sago that claimed 12 miners, statistics showed the neighboring Spruce Fork Mine was more dangerous, primarily because of a weak roof that frequently collapsed.
There were 45 roof falls at Spruce Fork in 2004 and 24 through August 2005. That compared with eight roof falls at Sago in 2004 and 19 for all of 2005.
The Spruce Fork Mine now is closed.
Shaffer's case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey Walker.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 05-C-2883