CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Widows of two Massey Energy Co. miners killed in a January 2006 fire have sued the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration for not citing major violations that, if corrected, could have prevented the deaths at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County.
Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The law allows private parties to sue the federal government for damages caused by people acting on the government's behalf.
The lawsuit alleges that, before the fire on Jan. 19, 2006, MSHA inspectors missed or ignored significant violations of federal regulations governing mine ventilation, control of combustible materials, miner training, monitoring systems and pre-shift safety examinations.
"In every instance, MSHA noted the failure of its inspection personnel to inspect and remedy egregious safety violations that existed in the Alma Mine," the lawsuit stated.
"The existence of all these contributing factors created a 'perfect storm' that all but guaranteed a tragic accident," the lawsuit said. "Had even one of these major violations been properly and appropriately cited by MSHA, Mr. Bragg and Mr. Hatfield may not have died in the mine fire."
Filed three weeks after 29 miners died in an explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, the lawsuit cites an MSHA review that suggested close ties between agency officials and Massey might have led to lax enforcement before the Aracoma mine fire.
While a new administration has since taken over, and former United Mine Workers safety director Joe Main is now running MSHA, lawmakers and safety advocates have said the agency could have taken tougher action to end safety problems at Upper Big Branch before that April 5 disaster.
"It's time for MSHA to step up to the plate and acknowledge to its victims that which it has already acknowledged to itself," said Bruce Stanley, attorney for the Bragg and Hatfield families. "It owes these widows more than lip service. And while it appears that there have been some changes since the dangerous days of Aracoma, at Upper Big Branch, a coal mine and an entire community now lie in tatters."
Amy Louviere, an MSHA spokeswoman, declined to comment on the lawsuit.