CHARLESTON, West Virginia – The lone survivor of the Sago Mine disaster and the families of two victims sued the mine owner and five other companies, alleging negligence that put the miners at grave risk as they went about their work underground.
All three lawsuits filed Wednesday accuse International Coal Group and a subsidiary of shoddy operation of the mine and allege that unsafe working conditions led to the Jan. 2 explosion.
Twelve men died in the blast or succumbed during their prolonged entrapment, while survivor Randal McCloy Jr. was severely injured.
The lawsuits were filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court by McCloy and his wife Anna; Judy Bennett, widow of miner Alva Bennett; and Lily Bennett, widow of miner James Bennett.
Each suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Besides targeting ICG and a subsidiary, Wolf Run Mining, the suits accuse a number of mine suppliers of failing to provide proper safety equipment. Named were Burrell Mining Products Inc., Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply Inc., GMS Mine Repair and CSE Corp.
ICG said it had not reviewed the suits but that it planned to fight them. The company said it expected state and federal investigations, which have not been completed, to confirm that it was not at fault.
"The outcome of the Sago mine explosion was indeed tragic; however, that tragic outcome does not translate into negligence on the part of the company," ICG said in a statement Wednesday.
Representatives of the other companies did not immediately return phone messages.
The Bennett families' lawsuits also accuse ICG of recklessly failing to control the dissemination of information after the explosion, which resulted in victims' families falsely believing for nearly three hours that their loved ones were alive.
The McCloys' lawsuit said that Randal McCloy has "endured great physical pain and suffering, permanent scarring and disfigurement, and extreme mental anguish" because of the explosion.
Doctors have been unable to pinpoint why McCloy, 27, was the only one who survived the 41 hours it took rescuers to find the crew. He left the mine battered and comatose and spent months in the hospital. He suffered brain damage from carbon monoxide poisoning.
McCloy was released from a rehabilitation hospital in March.
Monroeville, Pennsylvani-based CSE Corp. manufactured the air packs used by the miners. The lawsuits allege that at least four air packs were defective, forcing the miners to share a limited oxygen supply as they awaited rescue.
Burrell Mining Products of New Kensington, Pa., and Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply of Mount Hope produced and distributed the foam seals used to close off an abandoned section of the mine where the explosion occurred, the lawsuits said. GMS Repair, based in Mountain Lake Park, Maryland, installed the seals at the Sago Mine, which failed in the blast.
The Bennett families' suits alleged that the defective conditions of the companies' products directly caused the miners' deaths. Those suits also seek an injunction to force ICG and Wolf Run to implement the recommendations of an independent investigation commissioned by Gov. Joe Manchin.
Also Wednesday, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., threw out a lawsuit by coal miners demanding that the government do more to ensure miners have working oxygen supplies and know how to use them.
The United Mine Workers of America had sought to force the Mine Safety and Health Administration to conduct periodic checks of oxygen units and conduct emergency training for all underground coal miners.
But the judge said the suit did not meet the legal requirements to force a court order.