On Monday, the world was yet again shocked by the deaths of American miners in an underground mining accident. This time, the event was reportedly caused by an explosion resulting from the ignition of built-up methane gas. At least 25 miners lost their lives, making this the worst mining disaster in over two decades. Four other miners were still missing. If those four do not survive, that would make the explosion the worst mining disaster in 40 years. The Chicago personal injury attorneys of the Passen & Powell are disheartened by the loss of these hardworking miners, and the injuries sustained by their surviving coworkers. The question remains: Was this mining explosion preventable?
The accident occurred at a mine south of Charleston, West Virginia. The mine, a huge complex known as the Upper Big Branch mine, is owned by the Massey Energy Company, and the explosion occurred about a mile and a half into the complex. Monday’s accident was unusual in that it occurred in April: such explosions are far more common in the winter, when cold, heavy air makes venting methane gas more difficult.
After the explosion, rescuers were hampered by the buildup of poison gases which prevented them from reaching the blast site. However, they remained optimistic. The mine is equipped with airtight safety chambers containing a four-day supply of food and water for several people, and two such chambers were located relatively close to the accident. Although rescuers have already determined that one of the chambers was empty, some or all of the missing miners may have reached the other and sealed themselves inside. All miners at Upper Big Branch carried oxygen containers on their belts, and containers with about an hour of breathable air were stockpiled inside the mine. Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration workers, however, called the situation for anyone still trapped in the mine “dire.”
Although mining is a dangerous business, as U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said, “Miners should never have to sacrifice their lives for their livelihood.” Unfortunately, this tragedy – like many mining accidents – may have been preventable. Our Chicago wrongful death attorneys have now learned that the buildup of methane gas, a toxic fume as well as a dangerous explosive, was an ongoing problem at the Upper Big Branch mine. In fact, the mine has been repeatedly cited by federal safety officials for safety violations for failing to properly ventilate methane. In the past year alone, the mine has received nearly $400,000 in fines for serious safety violations regarding its ventilation plan, failure to follow the plan, the buildup of combustible coal dust, and the lack of proper firefighting equipment. Moreover, Massey Energy Company (the coal industry’s most profitable producer) has a questionable safety history throughout its mines in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.
If Massey Energy Company’s safety violations led to the wrongful death and injury of these miners, they and their loved ones may have a legal claim against the company, the contractors, subcontractors or other individuals or entities for negligence in causing personal injury and death. Only after a thorough investigation of the particular circumstances will we know for certain who is responsible for this tragedy, and whether the victims and their families can recover under the law. The top Illinois wrongful death lawyers at Passen & Powell are experienced in helping the victims of negligence obtain justice from those who caused them harm.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.