CHARLESTON -- A legal reform group is criticizing the timing of an attorney's advertisement in the wake of the recent Raleigh County mine tragedy, while the attorney says he was simply trying to give a helping hand.
Mark Underwood took out an ad targeting those affected by the explosion at Massey Energy-owned Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners. The ad says in large letters, "The real tragedy of the Massey mine disaster is that it should have been prevented."
Richie Heath, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said time should be spent mourning and assessing what happened.
"It's a shame that, in the wake of this horrible tragedy, a few greedy personal injury lawyers didn't even have the respect to wait for the last of the fallen miners to be recovered before they started jockeying for the chance at a big payday," Heath said.
Underwood said time is of the essence in cases like these. He has handled the cases of coal miners and their families before.
"Massey's not sitting around twiddling their thumbs," he said. "They're getting their defense together."
The ad includes the number of citations the mine has received this year and urges those affected not to be talked into a "quick settlement" by Massey.
Underwood's grandfather lost his life in a coal mining accident in Fayette County before he was born. A corner was set aside in his house growing up for his picture.
"Everybody's entitled to their opinion, but CALA's... the mouthpiece for corporations that do this sort of stuff," Underwood said.
"It won't deter us from doing what we can to try to get to the truth."
Underwood said he hasn't retained any clients yet.
"We're more concerned with letting them know we're here," he said, "and letting them know that while we can't imagine everything they are going through, we sympathize with them."
Heath said it isn't the first time West Virginians have dealt with "questionable ambulance-chasing" by attorneys after a tragedy.
Tim Bailey raised a few eyebrows when he was asked by several media outlets to be an analyst after the Sago mine tragedy of 2006. Bailey traveled from Charleston to Upshur County for the work but said he never directly contacted any of the victims' family members.
"I promise you this: If I learned of anyone who would do that, I would be the first one down at the ethics board. That means out-of-state attorneys, too," said Bailey, now president of West Virginia's trial lawyers organization.
Bailey did end up representing some of those affected by the disaster but there were no ethics questions.
"WV CALA encourages individuals and lawyers to report any unethical conduct to the State Bar's lawyer disciplinary board, and urges legislators to address this issue so that family members can have an adequate period to mourn their loss," Heath said.