CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Alpha Natural Resources on Tuesday finalized a deal that resolves the last of the wrongful death claims of the families of the 29 miners who died in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, lawyers for the families confirmed.
The final 13 families accepted settlements offered by Alpha after a conference call that followed more than four days of talks led by a high-profile mediator in closed-door meetings at the Glade Springs Resort in Daniels.
Alpha had already worked out deals with 16 other families of miners killed in the April 5, 2010, explosion. Alpha acquired liability for the worst U.S. mining disaster in nearly 40 years when it purchased Massey Energy last June.
"On behalf of the families we were privileged to represent, we're happy we could provide some measure of closure on this particular part of this tragedy," said Charleston lawyer Tim Bailey, who represented two miners' families and helped lead a group of lawyers with the bulk of the cases.
But Bailey and other lawyers for the Upper Big Branch families emphasized that what their clients really want is for the top Massey managers responsible for safety conditions at the mine to be prosecuted.
"Compensation is one thing, but justice is another," Bailey said. "Based on what happened at this mine, there is not going to be justice until some people are indicted and some people go to jail."
Details of the settlements, especially the amounts to be paid, were not disclosed and were subject to standard confidentiality agreements.
West Virginia law requires wrongful death settlements to be approved by a circuit judge, and in cases where minor children are beneficiaries, separate legal counsel for the children must also review the deals.
Most observers believe the settlements easily exceeded the $3 million per family that former mine owner Massey Energy began offering in the weeks after the fatal explosion.
West Virginia law sets a tough standard for successfully suing employers over workplace deaths. Families of workers killed on the job must prove "deliberate intention" of their employer to evade safety standards in a manner they know is likely to cause significant injury or death.
But a trial in the Upper Big Branch disaster -- which government investigators have blamed on Massey's culture of deliberately evading safety standards -- could have carried serious risks of punitive damages. And a settlement helps Alpha in its continuing efforts to put behind it Massey's history of environmental and workplace disasters.