MORGANTOWN - Nine men who survived West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine disaster want to abandon mediation of their personal injury claims and start gathering evidence for trial because they say the mine's new owner isn't negotiating in good faith.
The miners also suggest one reason Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources is sealing the former Massey Energy mine where 29 men died is to prevent that collection of evidence, according to a motion to lift a stay that's been in place since last September.
The plaintiffs said they've been forced to rely on government and independent reports on the worst U.S. mining disaster in four decades.
Alpha, which acquired Massey and the mine near Montcoal in a $7.1 billion deal last summer, declined to discuss the mediations, saying they're confidential by court order.
"Alpha intends to respect the court's authority and directives," said spokesman Ted Pile.
In January, attorneys for the families of the 29 killed announced they'd settled their wrongful death lawsuits with Alpha. The terms were not disclosed, but the plaintiffs contend Alpha's stock price rose significantly after the announcement, buoyed by the positive headlines.
"What was not announced was the fact that the serious claims of those miners that survived the explosive blasts that day remained unsettled," said the motion that was filed last week in Boone County Circuit Court.
The nine plaintiffs said they've suffered serious, permanent and debilitating physical and psychological injuries as a result of the April 2010 blast, including traumatic brain injuries.
Pile said Alpha has always said it hopes to "settle all outstanding claims related to the Upper Big Branch accident so everyone can move forward."
"It was important to first take care of the families of those miners whose lives were lost in this tragic accident," he said.
Alpha said in January that it also settled lawsuits with at least seven injured survivors when it settled the death cases. Attorney Michelle Parfitt said some of her clients were in the same shuttle car and experienced the same explosive forces as those who died and those who have settled.
Some helped drag their fallen friends out of the mine, administered CPR in vain attempts to save them and suffer from survivor's guilt, among other things.
"They're in the worst of ways. They can't move forward. They can't get resolution of their claims," she said.
Parfitt said plaintiff Ryan Powers, who is in his late 20s, has tried three times to go back underground but is neither physically nor psychologically capable. While some miners have returned to work, she said Powers' doctors have told him he would present a danger to himself and others if he tried.
The other plaintiffs are Jason Stanley, Scott Halstead, Kenneth Woodrum, Kevin Brown, Tommy Estep, Dustin Ross, David Shears and Dakota Davis.