In a record-breaking settlement, Alpha Natural Resources, which acquired the company responsible for a 2010 West Virginia explosion that killed 29 miners, agreed to a $209 million payout. For Alpha, the settlement means paying civil and criminal penalties and restitution - and that is just the beginning. Victims' families can pursue legal action against the coal producer, and while Alpha is shielded from prosecution, individuals who were in power at the time are not, The New York Times reported.
Safety Hazards Were Preventable
In addition to lawsuits, this coal mining accident will certainly bring about changes in mining-safety practices. The federal Mining Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, investigated the accident and concluded it occurred due to unsafe conditions that Massey Energy could easily have prevented, according to the insurance industry publication Business Insurance.
The mine's workplace culture valued production over safety, according to MSHA's final report. Investigators uncovered an intentional scheme to avoid compliance with safety and health rules and hide life-threatening conditions from regulators, according to The Associated Press. MSHA reported that mine managers even maintained an accurate set of inspection books for itself and a fake one for inspectors. To top it off, management intimidated miners to keep them from talking.
The specific cause of the explosion was Massey's failure to prevent a small methane-gas ignition from turning into a powerful coal-dust explosion. MSHA reported that the company allowed accumulation of methane gas and coal dust, which ignited because of worn and broken cutting equipment; its water sprayers were broken and clogged and thus could not contain the fire.
In an effort to prevent such blatant safety violations in the future, the settlement requires Alpha to invest $48 million in mine-safety research and $80 million in technology to improve safety, according to the AP. Furthermore, the settlement will likely have a deterrent effect on other mining companies; if they fail to comply with safety rules - like allowing downtime during equipment modifications or corrections - they risk similar penalties.
Those injured in coal mining accidents, as well as family members of victims of fatal accidents, may be able to seek compensation from a number of potential defendants in a civil lawsuit. These individuals should contact a skilled personal injury attorney to determine their options for obtaining legal relief.