CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Massey Energy has reached settlements of potential wrongful-death lawsuits with the families of at least four of the coal miners killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, according to court records and officials involved.
One of the deals has already received court approval and hearings on two other settlements were scheduled for Tuesday.
Terms of the settlements were not made public, and Boone Circuit Judge William Thompson sealed all records related to the deals.
Twenty-nine miners died in the April 5 explosion at the mine operated by Massey's Performance Coal Co. subsidiary. Mine safety experts believe the explosion was likely caused by an ignition of methane gas and made far worse by a buildup of highly explosive coal dust.
None of the families in the four settlements had actually filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Massey or Performance Coal over the disaster.
Only two such casees have been filed to date, on behalf of the estates of miners William Griffith and Ronald Maynor. Several other families have retained lawyers and those lawyers have been investigating the explosion and preparing possible litigation.
Thompson has already approved a settlement with the estate of miner Rick Lane. Petitions for approval of settlement with the families of Timmy Davis Sr., Rex Mullins and James Mooney were filed on Aug. 11 and are pending in Boone Circuit Court, court records indicate.
Under West Virginia law, wrongful-death settlements in cases where minor children are among the estate beneficiaries require circuit court approval to ensure the settlement terms are fair and reasonable. In other wrongful-death matters where legal complaints have not been filed, lawyers from both sides often seek court approval so that the deal is on the record.