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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Dead Miners' Families Offered $3 Million To Wave Litigation

Family members of the 29 workers killed in the Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch coal mine accident in Montcoal, West Virginia on April 5 are being offered a settlement offer of $3 million for each deceased miner. If the settlement is accepted, recipients give up suing the company. To date, only three agreements have been finalized. Many families are awaiting the outcomes of federal and state investigations into the accident to see if the company is found responsible. Performance Coal Company is a subsidiary of Massey Energy Company.

Massey believes it is following standard operating procedure they believe they are offering generous settlements. Of course, families may seek punitive damages that could come to much more than $3 million. Under state law, any family members who were financially or emotionally dependent on the dead are allowed to seek the company's settlement. Legal experts say the $3 million offer is high for workers who earned at most about $80,000 a year, and they say the sum might be considered even richer in the context of rural West Virginia, where the poverty rate exceeds 19% and the unemployment rate is 9.3%.

Massey is supplementing workers' compensation benefits, so widows receive miners' full salaries for the rest of their lives or until they remarry. It also provides medical benefits to widows for 20 years and continued medical benefits for dependent children with no premiums. The company will also pay $5,000 a year for child care, and provide dependents with four-year scholarships to an accredited public college or vocational school in West Virginia.

Litigation involving miners' deaths, he says, usually takes three to four years to resolve. That could motivate some families to settle. But they stand to receive less if the company is cleared of wrongdoing and decides to lower its offer. Massey says it currently has no plans to do so. Regulators say the Massey mine had a pattern of serious and frequent safety violations over the past two years. (WSJ, 12/7/2010)

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