WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) -- Three judges hearing a coal slurry pollution lawsuit against Massey Energy are considering Friday whether the parent corporation should be held liable for the actions of a subsidiary it claims operated independently.
Massey contends that Rawl Sales & Processing, the company accused of poisoning hundreds of southern West Virginia wells by pumping slurry underground, had its own managers, board meetings and finances. Ownership and a shared interest in success are not enough to hold Massey responsible for everything Rawl did, argues attorney Jon Anderson.
But lawyers for some 700 Mingo County plaintiffs say former Massey CEO Don Blankenship "cut his teeth'' at Rawl and remained intimately involved in all his companies as he rose through Massey's ranks.
Blankenship was Rawl's comptroller in 1984 and was busting unions for Massey by 1982.
"He learned at Rawl that he had to determine how far he could stretch the operations of the company before the law beat you back,'' said attorney Van Bunch.
Rawl is also where he first demonstrated his hands-on management style, Bunch and fellow attorney Bruce Stanley argued.
They say Blankenship acknowledged in a recent deposition the reason that employees found cans of Dad's root beer on their desks: Dad's stood for "Do as Don says.''
"This all circles back to a management style,'' Bunch argued. "There's no basis to take this away from the jury.''
And if the plaintiffs prevail, he argued in court Thursday, someone must be on the hook for damages: "Massey needs to be answerable.''