Sago suits on hold

by John O'Brien |
Nov. 9, 2006, 4:19am

Randal McCloy

CHARLESTON - Opting to wait for other potential plaintiffs to catch up, a Kanawha Circuit Court judge on Wednesday suspended any action on the three lawsuits filed in August over the Sago mine disaster.

Judge Charles King said he feels that there are other potential lawsuits that could be filed and blocked any action on the already existing trio for 60 days. Those three have been consolidated during Discovery.

Lone survivor Randal McCloy and the families of the late James Bennett and Marty Bennett charged six companies with being at fault for the Jan. 2 incident that left 12 miners dead. Those defendants 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.

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

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.

Defense lawyers wanted to suspend the suits until investigations of the incident are closed.

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