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Judge blocks Sago suit action

A judge on Wednesday blocked for 60 days any action in three lawsuits filed by Sago Mine disaster victims against International Coal Group and other companies.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King said he wanted to see if the other 10 Sago families would file suits by then.

“There are other potential lawsuits out there,” King said during a morning hearing.

King also consolidated the three cases for purposes of discovery, but said he would decide later if trials would be combined.

The cases were filed in August by Sago survivor Randal McCloy Jr., and by the families of James Bennett and Marty Bennett, two of the 12 miners who died in the Jan. 2 disaster.

Defendants named in all three cases were ICG, its Morgantown-based subsidiary Wolf Run Mining Co., CSE Corp., Burrell Mining Products Inc., Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply, and GMS Mine Repair and Maintenance of Oakland, Md.

CSE made the emergency breathing devices that McCloy says failed the Sago miners. Burrell Mining Productions made the foam blocks used in underground seals that failed to contain the Sago explosion. Raleigh Mine and Industrial distributed the foam blocks. GMS Mine Repair was a contractor that, among other things, helped to build the failed seals.

Lawyers for the disaster victims say they filed the cases in Kanawha County because ICG President Ben Hatfield lives here.

Most of the other Sago victims’ families have retained lawyers, but have not yet filed wrongful death actions against the mine operator and the other companies.

Initially, lawyers for ICG and the other companies asked that the cases be stayed either until the rest of the families had sued or until the deadline for them to do so — Jan. 2, 2008 — had passed.

Stephen LaCagnin, an ICG lawyer, said the company did not want to have to go through duplicative legal interviews or repeat the process of providing relevant documents over and over.

Also, company lawyers wanted to stay the lawsuits until state and federal government investigations of the Sago disaster are closed.

King was not receptive to either idea. So, GMS lawyer Michael Farrell suggested the judge stay the proceedings for 60 days to see if the other cases are filed.

Lawyers for the Sago victims objected to the longer delay, but went along with the 60-day stay.

Stephen Goodwin, a lawyer for McCloy, said his client’s case was different from the others. Because McCloy survived, but has extensive injuries, the damages sought would be different from the wrongful death cases, Goodwin said.

“Our case is significantly different,” Goodwin said. “We have filed our case, and we have a right to pursue our claims.”

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.


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