MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Jurors have rejected claims that a Massey Energy coal-loading silo built near a southern West Virginia elementary school exposed hundreds of children to possible health problems, a decision the energy giant said Friday was an important victory.
The class-action lawsuit, which began five years ago, claimed that Virginia-based Massey and a subsidiary, Goals Coal Co., had created a public nuisance by building the silo 235 feet from the school. It also demanded a court-administered medical monitoring program.
Trains pull up to the silo to fill their cars, and the plaintiffs argued that creates dust that puts children at risk for asthma and other lung ailments. But Raleigh County Circuit Court jurors sided with Massey in rejecting those claims after a nine-day trial in Beckley.
General Counsel Shane Harvey blasted the lawyers involved in the case for attacking the coal industry, accusing them of trying to sway the public with hype and publicity.
"But the jury focused on the facts," Harvey said. "We live in these communities and support our local schools and take great care to operate responsibly. Jobs depend on cases like these, and we are very pleased and grateful for the jury's thoughtful service."
The plaintiffs' attorney, Kevin Thompson, said he was disappointed in the verdict but would continue to fight the coal company on other fronts.
"My co-counsel and I have devoted the past several years to exposing Massey's environmental practices, and we think that's a just cause," he said.
Thompson and Massey are set to clash again Aug. 1 in Wheeling, where a three-judge panel will hear a class-action lawsuit that claims the coal company poisoned hundreds of wells and made people sick by pumping coal slurry into worked-out mines. The plaintiffs blame the slurry for turning their water orange, brown and black, but Massey denies any responsibility or wrongdoing.