"We've accomplished what we set out to accomplish," said attorney Rachel Moreland, who represented two of the families. "This is a milestone for our clients. They have the benefit of closure in the civil context. We are hopeful that the United States Attorney will vigorously move forward toward final justice."
Alpha officials had no immediate comment on word that the settlements were reached and had earlier in the day Tuesday declined to discuss the mediation "out of respect for the privacy of these discussions with the families."
Boone Circuit Judge William S. Thompson had sent the cases to mediation led by Michael Rozen, who is partners with high-profile mediator Kenneth Feinberg, who handled the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund and the BP Oil Spill Fund.
At least eight of the families of miners who died had settled with Massey prior to the Alpha buyout, according to Massey's last quarterly financial statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Another three families had settled with Alpha by the time the company reached its $209.5 million deal with U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin to avoid any criminal prosecution of the company. Goodwin has said his criminal investigation is continuing to focus on individuals who may have committed crimes that played a role in the disaster.
So far, Goodwin's office has chalked up two convictions in its sprawling investigation of Upper Big Branch and of Massey's safety practices.
A former Upper Big Branch miner, Thomas Harrah, was sentenced to 10 months in jail after he pleaded guilty to faking a foreman's license while performing mine safety examinations at the mine.
Longtime mine security chief Hughie Elbert Stover is awaiting sentencing after being convinced of lying to investigators and trying to destroy evidence regarding a Massey policy to warn underground workings of impending government inspections. In its report on the disaster, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said that Massey policy allowed the company to conceal some serious safety problems at Upper Big Branch, and contributed to the disaster.
After a 20-month probe, MSHA's investigation team found that the disaster was caused by the company's "unwarrantable failure" to follow federal rules governing mine ventilation, roof control, and the cleanup of highly explosive coal dust.
Other contributory citations alleged a "reckless disregard" for requirements to perform periodic safety examinations and fix the problems identified and a routine effort to intimidate miners so they wouldn't complain about hazardous conditions.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.