CHARLESTON - Massey Energy President Don Blankenship says the state Democratic Party defamed him twisting a comment he made about two high-profile 2006 mine accidents in the state.
Blankenship, with attorney Richard Hayhurst, filed the suit Aug. 10 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the West Virginia Democratic Party and Chairman Nick Casey.
In the suit, Blankenship claims the "Not for Sale" ads created by the Democratic Party misrepresented statements he made to the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.
In an article published Feb. 19, the Herald-Mail said, "Blankenship said before the speech that he believes the Aracoma mine explosion was caused by fire in the belt, the mechanism that brings coal from the interior of the mines to the surface. He said he believes that type of explosion, and the Jan. 2 Sago Mine explosion in Upshur County that killed 12 workers, is rare and statistically insignificant."
In January 2006, 13 miners were trapped in the Sago Mine. All but one died. In February 2006, two more miners died in a fire at the Aracoma Mine in Logan County.
The ad created and paid for by the Democratic Party, which broadcast all over the state, as well as households in Ohio and Virginia, stated, "... this is the Blankenship who said the miner's deaths at Sago and Aracoma earlier this year were statistically insignificant," the suit says.
The ad started running in August 2006.
Blankenship claims he was misrepresented, and on Oct. 30, 2006, called television stations that ran the ads and advised them not to air the commercial, the suit says.
He claims he pointed out the "great difference between saying that a 'type of explosion' is 'rare' or 'statistically insignificant' and saying that the miners' deaths are 'statistically insignificant.'"
The ad was pulled, and Casey released a statement saying the commercial was accurate and the Democratic Party stood behind it.
"We will change the ad in order to satisfy the requirements of the TV stations and their counsel -– but we stand by the original wording of the ad. Let me be clear about this. It doesn't matter if an explosion killed those miners or a roof fall –- they're tragically just as dead -– and Mr. Blankenship's comments are tragically just as insensitive ... To argue otherwise is the equivalent of arguing about what the definition of 'is is'," Casey said in the news release.
Blankenship claims the defamatory statements made about him have damaged his business and professional reputations. He also said that as the president and CEO of Massey, a publicly owned mining company, the statements might deter "reasonable miners from associating," with him and the company.
Blankenship seeks a public apology and compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at trial.
The case has been assigned to Judge Jennifer Bailey Walker.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 07-C-1668