CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the one-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster approaches, three more lawsuits were filed Monday against Massey Energy over the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
Suits were filed on behalf of the families of Joe Marcum and Adam Morgan, miners who died in the disaster. A third case was filed on behalf of Stanley Stewart, a miner who narrowly escaped being killed.
The suits were filed against Massey and against subsidiaries Massey Coal Services and Performance Coal Co.
Charleston lawyer Tim Bailey, who filed the three suits, alleged that Massey operated the Upper Big Branch mine in a "willful, wanton and recklessly unsafe manner," citing a "staggering number of safety violations" cited by government inspectors.
"Prior to April 5, 2010, the Upper Big Branch Mine had an abysmal safety record," Bailey said in one of the new suits. "The Upper Big Branch Mine was a catastrophe waiting to happen."
The new suits were filed in Boone Circuit Court, and note that the underground mine was producing coal from both Boone and Raleigh counties.
Among other things, the new suits cite preliminary findings of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration that the Upper Big Branch Mine was not properly treated with crushed limestone or "rock dust" to control the buildup of explosive coal dust. The suits also note preliminary findings that water spray nozzles on the mine's longwall machine were not operating properly to prevent sparks and reduce coal dust.
Massey has said it believes MSHA's rock-dusting data is inaccurate and argued that the water spray problems had little if anything to do with the fatal explosion.
The suits do not name former Massey CEO Don Blankenship as a defendant, but allege that Blankenship had personal knowledge that the mine was being operated in an unsafe fashion. The suits also do not name individual members of Massey's board of directors, but allege that those board members "undertook duties and responsibilities" for mine safety under the settlement of a previous shareholder lawsuit.
At least two other lawsuits are pending against Massey by the families of William Griffith and Ronald Lee Maynor, who died in the explosion. West Virginia law generally requires such suits to be filed within two years.
Massey reported last week that it has reached settlements with seven families of disaster victims, and that a judge has approved four of those settlements. Those settlements were all reached before the actual filing of a lawsuit.
Details of the settlements have not been made public, but Massey has said it offered families $3 million to settle any claims against the company.