Tuesday, November 16, 2010

W.Va. residents, Massey meet in hopes of reaching settlement in coal-pollution lawsuit

UPDATE, Nov. 17: Settlement negotiations between the land owners and Massey broke down late Tuesday night, setting the stage for a trial next summer. "Kevin Thompson, the plaintiffs' lead attorney based in Williamson, W.Va., said the mediation, which was ordered by the state's mass-litigation panel, was unsuccessful," Maher reports. Massey's general counsel, Shane Harvey, said, "We look forward to proving that our mining had no impact on the plaintiffs' wells." (Read more)

Over 500 residents of West Virginia mountain communities who say Massey Energy contaminated their wells with coal-mine waste opened a three-day meeting on Monday in hopes of reaching a settlement before their case goes to trial, Kris Maher of The Wall Street Journal reports. "A panel of West Virginia judges ordered the 556 plaintiffs, and dozens of representatives from insurance companies that have denied coverage, to appear at the Charleston Civic Center for a three-day mediation," Maher writes.

The meeting hopes to establish how "much money the residents might be paid; how that cost would be borne by Massey, or by its insurance companies; and how many claims would be covered by the settlement," Maher writes. The trial is set to begin in August 2011 if no settlement is reached. Massey denies wrongdoing in the case. "Circuit Judge Alan Moats, chairman of the state's mass-litigation panel, said the size and complexity of the case made the mediation 'an unprecedented event,'" Maher writes. "Residents from Rawl and three other communities filled the civic-center auditorium because no courtroom in the state could fit them all."

The plaintiffs, who filed the lawsuit in 2004 in Mingo County Circuit Court, claims from 1978 to 1987 "Massey's Rawl Sales and Processing subsidiary injected 1.4 billion gallons of slurry into abandoned mines near their homes without necessary permits," Maher writes. The suit alleges slurry leaked through the mines into groundwater, leading to deaths from cancer, kidney failures and other chronic health problems. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $100 million in compensatory damages for lost wages and health expenses. (Read more)

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