The federal government will pay $550,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged it didn’t do its job in preventing the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.
Carolyn Diana Davis, who filed the suit on behalf of her husband, and the United States reached a settlement last week, according to Davis’ attorney, Bruce Stanley. Davis’ husband, Charles Timothy Davis, was killed in the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, which was operated by Performance Coal, a subsidiary of Massey Energy.
Because the settlement is money funded by taxpayers, it was made public, Stanley said. The settlement is still subject to a public hearing and approval by U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Beckley under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Davis filed the suit on April 5, 2018, the eighth anniversary of the explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. Davis’ husband was one of the four bodies found by a rescue crew in the headgate entry to the longwall.
The lawsuit cites reports from the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel, which said MSHA knew about UBB’s faulty ventilation system and yet ignored warning signs. The panel, led by former MSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor J. Davitt McAteer, found four failures: The mine had a history of methane-related events; it had ventilation issues MSHA knew about; MSHA was required to sample rock dust; and MSHA failed to “see the entire picture,” the report says.
The federal government’s own Independent Panel Assessment also found MSHA “failed to adequately perform its duties at UBB, and that this failure had a casual relationship to the explosion,” the complaint states.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration didn’t “exercise reasonable care” and breached its responsibility to Charles Timothy Davis by “failing to inspect and/or report numerous blatant, fundamental and grave violations of generally accepted coal mine safety standards,” the complaint states.
The federal government filed a motion to dismiss in response, saying Davis never cited any specific directives that MSHA employees violated.
Don Blankenship, former Massey Energy CEO, spent a year in federal prison for conspiring to violate mine safety laws. Last year, he ran in the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia and lost to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
The disaster could’ve been prevented, Stanley said. He referenced the 2006 fire at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County, which killed two Aracoma mine workers.
“I’ve always believed that had the federal government acted more diligently and with more resolve after the Aracoma Mine Fire we would’ve never had Upper Big Branch. I believe that in my heart,” Stanley said. “I think they had an opportunity to rid us of Don Blankenship and his management techniques long ago.”