Massey has confirmed that it offered Upper Big Branch families settlements of $3 million each. Other sources have said some families were offered up to $5 million, depending on the age of the miners who died and the number of dependents they had. Massey spokesman Micah Ragland said that was incorrect, and that the company has not offered anyone a settlement of more than $3 million.
In the weeks after the disaster, Blankenship publicly urged the miners' families to settle with Massey without hiring lawyers and filing suits to avoid "having large legal bills or having to share it with a plaintiffs' attorney."
Massey lawyers filed the papers seeking court approval of the Upper Big Branch settlements, and none of the four families involved was represented by attorneys in those filings, officials said.
Initially, Thompson had sealed from public viewing all records concerning the Upper Big Branch settlements. Court officials could not reveal even the case numbers or names of the families involved.
After the Gazette inquired about the documents, Thompson instructed court officials to release the case numbers, names and the dates of the court filings. All other information about the cases remain sealed.
Thompson said Tuesday that both sides had asked for the settlement documents to be sealed.
Under West Virginia law, there is a general presumption that courts and court documents are open to the public.
Before sealing records, judges are required by Supreme Court rulings to determine whether "fair administration of justice or other compelling public policies" warrant secrecy. Judges must also allow "all interested parties to be heard" on the issue and consider alternatives to secrecy. The Supreme Court has also ruled that judges must make specific findings about their reasons for sealing court files, to make enough of a record for appellate review.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.