In April 2010, a massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 people and now, the surviving relatives of three of those men say that Alpha Natural Resources hasn't paid them the $1.5 million they were each promised under a settlement with the federal government.
The relatives have filed lawsuits against Alpha, also claiming that at least eight other families are still awaiting payments. The lawsuit asks Judge Irene Berger to enforce the terms of the $210 million agreement reached with the Department of Justice in order to ensure that all families receive the restitution they were promised.
Alpha is being sued because it bought Massey Energy, the company that was responsible for the Upper Big Branch mine at the time of the explosion. The suit was filed by Jeffrey Skeens, who lost his father; Carolyn Davis, whose husband was killed in the mine; and Owen Davis, who lost his son. The families say that, although they agreed to confidential settlements with Massey before the company was sold, Alpha wasn't party to those deals, and the families never relinquished rights to additional restitution.
As part of the massive federal settlement, Alpha promised to pay $46.5 million to the families of the 29 victims, as well as to two other miners who were severely injured in the blast. The three families say that offer of restitution was "a voluntary act" by Alpha, and they should be included in the disbursement of funds.
"Nowhere in the non-prosecution agreement does it state that because the defendants had settled wrongful death claims ... that no additional restitution would be paid," their complaint says.
The Upper Big Branch explosion was the worst coal mining disaster in 40 years. Four separate investigations found gross negligence less to the incident—worn and broken cutting equipment sparked and ignited coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers failed to douse a minor flare-up, allowing it to blaze unchecked and explode. Several Massey executives are already in jail in relation to the explosion and subsequent internal cover-ups, while others have been convicted and are awaiting sentencing.