Coal Tattoo

Mine Explosion Congress

Buried among the news from the long holiday weekend was this important report from the Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden:

After a five-week trial in Grundy, Virginia., a Buchanan County jury awarded $5 million in damages to Harman Mining Corp. and Hugh M. Caperton in their legal dispute with A.T. Massey Coal that began more than 16 years ago when Massey bought Wellmore Coal Corp in 1997.

The seven-member jury announced its verdict about 5:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon, awarding $4 million to Harman Mining and two related companies — Harman Development Corp. and Sovereign Coal Sales. The jury also awarded $1 million to Caperton for personal financial damages.

Caperton argued he was forced to shut down his mining operations and file for bankruptcy because Massey illegally broke a contract he had to supply metallurgical coal, through Wellmore Coal, to the LTV Corp., a Pittsburgh steel company.

Within six months of Massey’s purchase of Wellmore and its parent company United Coal, Massey President and CEO Don Blankenship shifted the LTV contracts to his own non-union mines in Boone County.

In the trial that ended on Friday, Harman and Caperton asked the Buchanan County jury for $90 million in compensatory damages, which included wages and benefits for union miners who lost their jobs when Harman Mining’s operations shut down in 1998.

Back in 2002, a Boone County jury in West Virginia awarded Harman Mining and Caperton $50 million.

But the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled against that verdict three different times, sending the case back to Virginia, where Caperton’s mining operations were located.

Bruce Stanley, a lawyer with ReedSmith — the Pittsburgh law representing Caperton — said on Saturday, “From our perspective, yet again, a jury found Massey liable for putting Harman out of business and the injuries it caused Hugh Caperton.

“But unfortunately, the jury, for reasons to be determined, didn’t give a big enough award to make anybody whole. There should be no doubt now about Massey and Don Blankenship. This is the third time a jury has said what they did was wrong.”

Stanley indicated that they might appeal the size of the verdict.

Read the whole story here.