Nearly 50 years after Consolidation Coal’s No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Virginia, exploded and killed 78 miners, the victim’s widows and children are still fighting for the justice they deserve.
On November 20, 1968, a series of explosions erupted around 5:30 am at the mine, trapping 99 miners. Twenty-one miners were able to escape or be rescued, while the rest perished in an effort to contain the fires by closing any openings of the mine. In the aftermath of the disaster, the victims’ families received meager settlements of $10,000.
A few years later, seven families sued and received another settlement of 246 acres of hilly land near the mine, as well as timber and gas leasing rights. However, the real estate wasn’t worth much besides hunting. More than 20 years later, an abbreviated report of an investigation conducted by the federal government left those families distraught by the small price the company paid for what occurred at No. 9.
In 2011, former West Virginia University journalism professor Bonnie Stewart shed new light on the disaster in a book she wrote, “No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster.” What caught the attention of the victims’ families was a memo which federal mine inspector Larry Layne wrote two years after the incident, which stated that an unidentified Consolidation electrician informed him that an alarm that was supposed to be connected to a fan pushing dangerous methane gas out of the mine had been disabled. The alarm was supposed to alert miners to a methane building, signaling them to evacuate.
“Every time I pick up the book to read it, I get mad,” said one of the victim’s widows in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In 2014, the victims’ families filed a wrongful death suit against Consolidation and the estate of the employee, Alex Kovarbasich, they believe disabled the alarm. They are seeking $110,000 each, as well as interest and damages.
Unfortunately, the journey for justice continues. Murray Energy, which purchased Consolidation coal holdings three years ago, wants the case dismissed due to the statute of limitations.
The lawsuit, originally filed in Marion County Circuit Court, was transferred to federal court in Clarksburg. Then, a Clarksburg federal magistrate ruled in 2015 that the lawsuit could not be amended to include another former Consolidation employee, Leonard Sacchetti, 90, as a defendant. In the memo, Layne had identified Sacchettti as the employee who told him that Kovarbasich had disabled the alarm before the explosion occurred.
Federal case proceedings were halted after Consolidation contested the opening of Mr. Kovarbasich’s estate in state court and was victorious. That decision is being appealed to the WV Supreme Court.
Mining Disasters: A Frequent Occurrence
The 1968 Farmington coal mine disaster is a reminder of how mining companies callously treated their employees. They often avoid upholding and diligently enforcing state and federal safety laws for the sake of making a profit instead of protecting the lives of their employees who work in dangerous conditions on a daily basis. These companies will even go as far as to cover up their mistakes to avoid paying damages to the victims’ families. If you were injured or had a loved one killed in a mining accident, it is imperative to obtain experienced and skilled legal representation from a mining lawyer in order to protect your rights and get the justice you deserve.
Contact Lord Hoosier, PLLC today and speak with our Charleston WV employment lawyer. 20+ years of experience on your side.