West Virginia Record

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Logan man's suit says he was injured at Aracoma weeks before fatal fire

By Cara Bailey | Dec 20, 2007

CHARELSTON - A Logan County man has filed a suit against Massey Coal and Aracoma Coal, claiming he was injured in a conveyor belt fire more than three weeks before a fatal fire that killed two other miners in the same mine.

Wyatt Robinson Jr. and his wife, Rebecca Robinson, filed a suit Nov. 20 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the mine companies.

Robinson was employed by Aracoma Coal to work in the Alma Mine. While on his shift Dec. 29, 2005, a fire broke out on the mother belt.

The belt is used to transport coal to the surface. Often, coal dust will accumulate around the belts, which travel at high speeds. According to the suit, the combination of speed and coal dust often leads to fires.

"Although the fire bosses were supposed to walk the belt lines before and after each shift to ensure the safety of the belt line, including but not limited to belt shavings, and any other combustible materials, this was not being done," the suit says.

Robinson claims he was told carbon dioxide levels were rising in a section of the mine and he was sent to examine the reason.

According to the suit, as Robinson got closer to the belt, all he could see was smoke and fire. He claimed the smoke was so thick he feared for his life and had to leave the area. He tried to find a phone but could not because of the fire.

Robinson claims he tried to get to the belt from another entry and began using fire extinguishers on the belt line, but they were not helping to contain the fire. He then began throwing mud and water on the fire.

According to the suit, Robinson used more fire extinguishers, more rock dust and hose, and continues to spray until the fire was out.

However, throughout the entire episode, Robinson was breathing in the toxic smoke, was sick to his stomach, dizzy and vomiting with a severe headache. He claims he lungs were sore for several days after the fire as a result of the heavy smoke inhalation he suffered.

According to the suit, each conveyor belt is supposed to be equipped with a water sprinkler system designed to activate in high temperatures and suppress fire. However, the sprinkler never activated because it had not been installed for the mother belt storage unit, where the fire originated.

Robinson claims management failed to ensure the fire bosses were walking the belt lines before and after each shift because of a memo from Massey Energy, which stated: "If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. -– build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills."

Another belt fire killed two minors Jan. 19, 2006. Ellery Elvis Hatfield and Don Israel Bragg were killed after they became separated from their work crew when the fire broke out. Seven miners who were in the mine that day have also filed lawsuits against Massey Coal and Aracoma Coal.

According to the suit, Robinson suffered heavy smoke inhalation and the inhalation of fire generated toxic products of combustion including carbon monoxide. This caused lung tissue injury and destruction, upper and lower respiratory tract injury, pulmonary irritation causing difficulty in breathing, thermal damage and the increased risk of asthma.

Rebecca Robinson claims she has suffered the loss of consortium, society and companionship from her husband.

In the five-count suit, the Robinsons seek compensatory and punitive damages.

Attorney Timothy C. Bailey is representing Robinson. The case has been assigned to Judge Irene Berger.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 07-C-2568

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