Testimony begins in Marsh Fork coal silo trial
BECKLEY, W.Va. -- A civil trial began Tuesday to decide whether hundreds of Raleigh County children should get medical monitoring due to exposure to coal dust from a Massey Energy Co. silo.
A jury of seven women heard opening statements from lawyers who brought the class-action lawsuit on behalf of an unknown number of current and former pupils at Marsh Fork Elementary against Richmond, Va.-based Massey and several subsidiaries.
The plaintiffs claim Massey improperly built the silo 235 feet from the school, which allowed dangerous levels of coal dust to enter the building and put children at risk of black lung disease and asthma.
"Massey owes a duty to do no harm," plaintiffs' lawyer Kevin Thompson said. "Massey could have built the silo further away.
"The wrong is building the silo next to the school."
Thompson said evidence will show coal dust got into the school and that the dust came from Massey's operation.
Massey lawyer Dan Stickler told the jury the evidence doesn't support requiring the company to provide medical monitoring, which would include chest X-rays and asthma tests.
Stickler showed jurors a series of photos of a rail car being loaded with coal from the silo and suggested they show no coal dust floating into the air. Moreover, he said, no one -- not the Environmental Protection Agency, nor other regulators -- had found dust escaping from the silo and getting into the school.
"Each time it has been looked at, it has been concluded to be safe," Stickler said.
He cautioned that siding with Massey might be hard, because that would mean ruling against children. "You're going to have to put your emotions a little bit behind you," he said.
The lawsuit was filed in Raleigh County Court in 2005 and stems from the construction of the silo, which was completed in 2004. It will cover students who attend the school through perhaps 2012 until a replacement is finished.
The trial is expected to last until the end of the week.