West Virginia Record

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Miners injured at Aracoma seek damages

By Cara Bailey | Jul 17, 2007

CHARLESTON - Seven miners who were injured in a Logan County mine fire that killed two of their co-workers, filed lawsuits against Massey Energy and Aracoma Coal Company seeking punitive damages for their injuries.

Patrick Kinser, Randy Crouse, Steve Hensley, Michael Shull, Joe Hunt, Gary Baisden and Thomas Vanover filed separate suits July 6 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

The men were all in the Alma No. 1 mine in Logan County when a fire broke out Jan. 19, 2006, forcing them to evacuate. Two miners, Ellery Elvis Hatfield and Don Bragg both died in the mine.

The suits -- filed by attorneys Timothy Bailey, Dan Snuffer, Scott Segal and Samuel Krko -- all state that Aracoma Coal, the company that owns the mine, was negligent in maintaining the safety of the mine.

According to the suits, a fire broke out when a belt started rubbing against the bearings, and cinders started falling. Two fire extinguishers were used on the fire, but did not put it out.

Bryan Cabell, the evening shirt belt examiner, Pat Callaway, the foreman and contract miner Jonah Rose, all tried to extinguish the fire, the suits say, but could not because the water to that area of the mine had been cut off.

The sprinkler system also never activated.

The suits also state that smoke was flowing into Section #2 of the mine, where the plaintiffs were working.

"The smoke should have flowed through the longwall section, but a required ventilation control safety barrier was missing, reversing the air direction in the longwall belt area and causing the #2 section to fill with smoke," the suit says.

The ventilation controls, or stoppings, were removed from the mine five weeks before the incident, allowing smoke to move around the mine.

According to the suits, the miners tried to evacuate, but because the stoppings had been removed, they encountered many barriers, including thick smoke, which blinded and nauseated some. Also, the mine maps were inaccurate because of the missing stoppings, the suits say.

The miners were able to reach a secondary escapeway where the air was clear, but they realized Bragg and Hatfield had become separated. Hensley and Hunt returned to the mine to find them, but were unable to located them.

The men claim they suffered heavy smoke inhalation and inhalation of fire generated toxic products, including carbon monoxide.

The suits say the inhalation could lead to tissue injury and destruction, upper and lower respiratory tract injury, pulmonary irritation, thermal damage and the increased risk of asthma.

The suits state Aracoma Coal violated West Virginia Code by removing the stoppings in the mine, and claim Massey Energy is negligent.

The men seek punitive damages for their injuries.

The families of Hatfield and Bragg filed suits in December in Logan Circuit Court, claiming Massey Energy and CEO Don Blankenship put profits ahead of safety.

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