Coal Tattoo

Crandall Canyon: Wrongful death suits settled


More breaking news today:

Word just in that the wrongful death lawsuits filed by families of the miners who died at the Crandall Canyon disaster have been settled. Here’s the statement I received from one of the law firms involved:

All of the parties to the civil lawsuits stemming from the August, 2007, Crandall Canyon Mine disaster have reached a confidential settlement ending the litigation.  The families of those killed and those injured in the mine are relieved to put this portion of the tragedy behind them.  “It is in everyone’s best interests to move forward,” said Edward Havas, one of the attorneys for many of plaintiffs in the case.  “It is time to focus on the future, even as we remember the past; and time to concentrate on the living, even as we remember those who were lost” he said. 

“Nothing can erase the loss suffered by these people and the community, but there is benefit in closing this chapter” of the tragedy, lawyers for the parties said.  “After nearly two years of intense work on the case, all parties involved worked to provide for the future needs of the families,” said another attorney for the families, Alan Mortensen. “All litigation involves risk, and can be costly and time-consuming.  Bringing the litigation to an end avoids delay, expense, uncertainty, and – most of all – allows the victims to continue the process of healing and moving ahead in their lives,” Mr. Havas said.

The last word I had was that suits had been filed on behalf of families of eight of the nine workers who died and five of the six who were injured in the August 2007 disaster. That’s according to a previous story by my friend Mike Gorrell at the Salt Lake Tribune.

UPDATED: The settlement resolves three separate lawsuits brought on behalf of the families of six miners and three rescuers who were killed and six workers who were injured, according to lawyer Edward B. Havas.

Gorrell and his coworker, Robert Gehrke, have been on top of the Crandall Canyon story from the start, and Gehrke has a story today about the settlement. It reminds us of the tragic events:

Six miners were killed on Aug. 6, 2007, when the Crandall Canyon coal mine near Huntington buckled and collapsed under the pressure of nearly 2,000 feet of rock in the mountain above. The collapse registered 3.9 on seismic instruments and spanned an area equal to about 10 city blocks.

The workers had been stripping the last remnants of coal out of the aging mine, carving into the 400-foot-thick walls that supported the structure. It was, according to federal mining officials, an unheard of strategy, but the Mine Safety and Health Administration had repeatedly signed off on the effort. The pressure on the pillars supporting the mine had caused bounces or bumps, where coal violently explodes from the support structures or causes the floor to heave and buckle.

The company, according to an MSHA investigation, failed to notify regulators of those events, including one that occurred three days before the fatal collapse and buried a miner waist-high in coal.

After the initial collapse trapped the six miners, rescuers tunneled furiously through the passageways clogged with coal to try to reach the men but were stymied by the continuing shifting of the mountain. Holes were also drilled from the surface to try to locate the men.

On Aug. 16, 2007, three men [including an MSHA inspector] were killed and at least six others injured when another bounce blasted rescuers across a mine passage, burying them in rubble and debris. It marked the end of the underground rescue efforts. The mine has since been permanently sealed.

As I reported previously, a federal prosecutor in Utah has said he has no plans to bring criminal charges in the disaster.

House Labor Committee Chairman George Miller and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration bought sought criminal probes of Crandall Canyon, and MSHA has already sought $1.85 million in civil fines from Murray Energy and its engineering contractor. The companies are still appealing.

Also, recall that a Labor Department Inspector General’s report found that  MSHA itself was negligent at Crandall Canyon, citing lax review of the mine’s roof control plan and poor follow-up inspections. And, an independent review found that Bush administration budget cuts, staffing reductions and the emphasis on “compliance assistance” played a role at Crandall Canyon and other mine disasters in 2006 and 2007.

See other previous posts about Crandall Canyon and Murray Energy’s Bob Murray here, here, here and here.

Details of the wrongful death settlement were not released. But there was also this statement, issued jointly by the company and lawyers for the family:

All of the plaintiffs and all of the defendants in the civil lawsuits stemming from the August 007 accidents at the Crandall Canyon Mine have reached a comprehensive settlement for a confidential amount.

According to the parties, the settlement brought numerous and widely varying interests together. The parties expressed hope that the settlement would bring a measure of closure and a sense of healing to the families of those who were lost or injured, current and former company employees, company management, the residents of Carbon and Emery Counties, and the coal mining industry in general.

Ultimately, the plaintiffs, the defendants, and their insurers recognized the extent of factual complexities and novel questions of law, and the time and expense of resolving them. Rather than engaging in lengthy, expensive, and unpredictable litigation, the parties decided to work together toward an amicable, reasonable settlement to put these matters in the past, provide for the victims’ and their families’ futures, and allow all concerned to move forward. The parties succeeded in doing so, and the resolution reflects the sincere concerns and very best efforts of everyone involved.