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9:45am

Tue January 10, 2012
The Two-Way

Update: Settlements Reached With Families Of W.Va. Miners

Originally published on Tue January 10, 2012 4:32 pm

(This post was retopped with the latest news at 5 p.m. ET)

Five days of emotionally charged and mediated talks have resulted in settlements in the remaining wrongful death cases prompted by the 2010 Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia.

Sources familiar with the negotiations say that all 29 families of the men killed in the underground explosion nearly two years ago have agreed to compensation offered by mine owner Alpha Natural Resources.

The compensation agreements include standard non-disclosure clauses that seek to keep details private.

Seven miners injured and/or traumatized by the tragedy also accepted compensation, according to NPR sources.

The agreements settle lawsuits filed by some of the victims' families but they're still subject to approval by a West Virginia court.

Alpha Natural Resources inherited the wrongful death claims when it purchased Massey Energy last year. Massey is blamed for the tragedy by federal and independent investigators, who cited in their reports a corporate culture that put productivity over safety.

"We've been in discussions for several days with the surviving family members and their attorneys, working to reach a settlement agreeable all parties," says Ted Pile, Alpha's spokesman. "We respect the confidential nature of those discussions and consequently we're not able to comment at this time."

Alpha avoided corporate criminal liability last month in an agreement with the Justice Department that guaranteed a minimum of $1.5 million in compensation for each of the 29 families who lost loved ones in the mine explosion.

At least 10 families had accepted settlements directly from Massey Energy before the company changed hands last year. Massey said it offered $3 million in compensation to each of the families.

"This gives them peace of mind and security as they face a future without husbands and fathers," says Tim Bailey, who represents the families of two of the miners killed. "But this is not justice," Bailey adds. "My clients will never believe they've achieved justice until those that actually were responsible for these deaths are indicted and found guilty."

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said last month his prosecutors are still considering criminal charges against Massey executives and mine managers.

Attorney Mark Moreland represents two Upper Big Branch families. "To complete the circle of justice here," Moreland says, "everyone must now wait for the actions of the U.S. Attorney. We believe somebody needs to go to prison."

Moreland also says compensation does not provide closure for his clients but still has value.

"While no amount of money will ever replace the loss, the conclusion of the civil litigation will help our clients move on with their lives," Moreland says.

The mediation talks that began Friday at a resort in Glade Springs, W. Va., were handled by Michael Rozen, whose New York firm helped distribute payments from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Rozen's firm also mediated settlement talks stemming from the BP oil rig explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Update at 4:15 p.m. ET. Settlements Reached:

Sources report settlements have now been reached for all of the wrongful death cases in West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine explosion. The families of each of the 29 mine workers killed in April 2010 will receive compensation. Again, as we said earlier, details will not be made public due to confidentiality clauses in the agreements. Settlements were also reached with seven miners who suffered physical injuries or psychological trauma.

Alpha Natural Resources, the company that now operates the mine (it bought out Massey Energy, which operated Upper Big Branch at the time of the disaster) has yet to comment on the agreements with the families.

Attorney Tim Bailey represents two of the families who lost loved ones in the tragedy. "This gives them peace of mind and security as they face a future without husbands and fathers," Bailey says. "But this is not justice. My clients will never believe they've achieved justice until those that actually were responsible for these deaths are indicted and found guilty."

Our original post from 10:45 a.m. ET — "The Cost Of A Life: Mine Disaster Settlement Talks Enter Fifth Day":

The emotionally charged task of putting price tags on the lives of coal miners killed in the nation's deadliest mine disaster in 40 years continues for a fifth day in West Virginia.

Sources familiar with the mediation talks say the families of 13 Upper Big Branch mine explosion victims are still considering settlement of wrongful death claims with mine owner Alpha Natural Resources.

Six families settled yesterday in mediated negotiations that began Friday at a resort in Glade Springs, W. Va.

Attorney Mark Moreland represents two of the families who filed wrongful death lawsuits and accepted settlements Monday.

"While no amount of money will ever replace the loss, the conclusion of the civil litigation will help our clients move on with their lives," Moreland tells NPR.

Settlement terms will not be made public, Moreland adds, due to standard non-disclosure clauses in the agreements.

Alpha spokesman Ted Pile also declined to comment "because these are private discussions that are ongoing," he says.

Last year, though, former Upper Big Branch owner Massey Energy disclosed settlement offers of at least $3 million for each of the families of the 29 workers killed in the massive underground explosion on April 5, 2010. Eleven families accepted before this month's mediation began, but a West Virginia Circuit Court approved only 10 of the cases. The eleventh is part of the mediation talks.

Under West Virginia law, wrongful death settlements must be reviewed and approved in court.

At least 11 miners physically injured or emotionally devastated by the explosion have also asserted claims, sources say. Their cases are also being negotiated in the mediation now underway for an unscheduled fifth day.

The mediator conducting the settlement talks is Michael Rozen, whose New York firm helped determine compensation from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Rozen's firm also mediated settlement talks stemming from the BP oil rig explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Last month, Alpha avoided corporate criminal prosecution for the Upper Big Branch explosion in an agreement with the Justice Department. The deal guarantees families of the miners killed a minimum of $1.5 million in compensation.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has said a criminal investigation continues and charges are still possible against managers and executives of Massey Energy. Federal and independent investigators blamed the explosion on a corporate culture that put productivity over safety.

"To complete the circle of justice here," says victims' attorney Mark Moreland, "everyone must now wait for the actions of the U.S. Attorney. We believe somebody needs to go to prison."

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