Lawsuits filed over Sago disaster

By John O'Brien | Aug 24, 2006

McCloy CHARLESTON - The lone survivor of January's deadly incident at Sago Mine filed one of three lawsuits Wednesday against six defendant companies, alleging their negligence was to blame for what happened at the Upshur County mine.

McCloy

CHARLESTON - The lone survivor of January's deadly incident at Sago Mine filed one of three lawsuits Wednesday against six defendant companies, alleging their negligence was to blame for what happened at the Upshur County mine.

Randal McCloy, Jr., survived being trapped in underground for more than 40 hours but is now suing over his physical pain and suffering. The families of two of the deceased miners, Marty Bennett and James Bennett, submitted wrongful death lawsuits in Kanawha Circuit Court.

On Jan. 2, a group of workers entered the Sago Mine, and an explosion killed one of them and sealed another 12 underground.

The defendants named are: International Coal Group; Wolf Run Mining Co., frequently known as Anker West Virginia Mining Co.; Burrell Mining Products; Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply; CSE Corp.; and GMS Mine Repair and Maintenance.

The suits say the Sago Mine was cited for more than 200 federal safety violations in 2005 and another 144 state violations. The incident rate at the mine, they add, was approximately three times the national average.

Despite that, ICG denied responsibility for the incident in a statement.

"The outcome of the Sago mine explosion was indeed tragic. However, that tragic outcome does not translate into negligence on the part of the company," it said.

McCloy reported for work as a roof bolter on Jan. 2 and says the mine seals were Omega blocks, foam-composite structures, instead of pricier and sturdier cement supports.

The Omega blocks were not strong enough, the lawsuit says. They were manufactured by Burrell and sold by Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply. The suits also blame ICG and its contractor, GMS Mine Repair, for not building the seals to abide by government regulations.

The lawsuits also say that four of the miners' 12 self-contained self-rescuer packs provided by CSE Corp. did not work properly and had to be discarded, leading to eight of the miners having to share their oxygen with the four who did not have rescue packs.

And when they attempted to bang on the metal roof, as miners are instructed to do when trapped, the lawsuits say they had to take off the packs because they were too cumbersome.

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 before they received word there was only one survivor.

It was the worst coal-mining disaster in the state in almost 40 years.

McCloy's case was also filed by wife Anna and on behalf of his two children, Randall McCloy III and Isabel. He charges Wolf Run with statutory deliberate intent; ICG, Burrell and GMS with negligence; and CSE with strict liability in tort.

Judy Bennett filed the second as Administratrix of the Estate of Alva Martin Bennett. The third was filed by Lily Bennett, the wife of James, and son John.

On MSNBC's The Abrams Report in January, John told host Dan Abrams, "My dad would come home at night and tell me how unsae the mine was. Been numerous mine falls here, they would shut down multiple days at a time to clean them up."

Stephen Goodwin of Charleston's Goodwin and Goodwin is representing the McCloys, and Timothy Bailey of Charleston's Bucci, Bailey and Javins represents Lily and John Bennett.

Wheeling attorney Dean Hartley and Weston attorney Brad Oldaker, who could not be reached at presstime, are representing Judy Bennett.

Bailey, who also could not be reached at presstime, also appeared on The Abrams Report Jan. 4, saying "We don't need lawyers down here trying to drum up business. I'm not here for that. I'm simply here to answer some questions about the status of West Virginia law and to make some information available."

Reportedly, complaints have been sent to the State Bar accusing both in- and out-of-state lawyers with having direct contact with the families of the victims.

The State Bar banned that sort of activity after the miners were found dead.

All lawsuits seek compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a court order that ICG implement safety improvements recommended in a report by Gov. Joe Manchin's special adviser on mine safety, Davitt McAteer.

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