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First Suit, More Violations Pile Up for Massey

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 19, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A lawsuit, surely to be the first of many stemming from the April 5 explosion at the Massey Upper Big Branch coal mine, was filed on April 15. A widow of one of the 29 miners who lost their lives in the blast has sued Massey Energy and its operating subsidiary, Performance Coal, for the wrongful death of her husband.

According to a report by the Associated Press, Marlene Griffith filed her suit in Raleigh County Circuit Court claiming that the mine's history of safety violations amounted to negligence which caused the death of her husband, miner William Griffith. The violations mounting up against Massey Energy may lend credence to the plaintiff's claims. In just the time period since the April 5 disaster, the AP says federal inspectors have found more than 60 serious safety violations at Massey Energy operations in over 30 underground coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.

However, MSHA Administrator Kevin Stricklin would like to make it clear that the Administration is not in any way targeting Massey with more than the normal amount of inspections or violation notices. "We're just going about our regular business," he told the AP. "I didn't give any instructions to go and look at Massey mines."

Yet, the MSHA administrator is deeply disappointed by the type of violations his team has found at the Massey operated mines. Stricklin's inspectors have found safely violations regarding the operation of a conveyer belt at Massey's Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine in West Virginia. It was at that same mine were a fire started by the conveyor belt killed two men in 2006. Further, despite the tentative identification of accumulations of explosive methane gas and coal dust as the cause of the Upper Big Branch explosion, the MSHA has cited the Solid Energy No. 1 mine in Kentucky for allowing coal dust to pile up on three separate occasions since the explosion.

"That's very troubling," Stricklin said. "Pitiful."

Massey did not immediately respond to requests from the AP for comment Friday on the lawsuit or the violations.

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