Miner's Widow Sues Coal Companies For More Than $65 million

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The widow of a miner killed in an
underground roof collapse at a southeastern Kentucky mine is
seeking more than $65 million in a lawsuit against the five
Virginia companies that oversee the operation.
Claudia Cole of Cumberland filed a wrongful death lawsuit
Thursday in federal court, accusing the defendants of negligence in
connection with her husband's August 2005 death at the Stillhouse
Mine No. 1 near Cumberland.
The suit says Black Mountain Resources, Harlan Resources,
Stillhouse Mining, Cumberland Land Corp. and Cumberland Resources
Corp. failed to ensure the mine complied with federal and state
safety laws and train employees on placement of roof supports.
The miners on her husband's shift were also allowed to work in a
mine area where there was a crack in the roof, according to the
lawsuit.
The body of Russell L. Cole, 39, was recovered four days after
the rock fall that trapped him under a rock inside the Harlan
County mine. Cole was the mine foreman.
Claudia Cole and the couple's two children are seeking $1.6
million in damages for loss of wages, $50 million in punitive
damages and $15 million to compensate the children for the loss of
their father. They are also seeking a jury trial.
"From Claudia's perspective, she is seeking justice for her
family. ... She wouldn't take any money if she could have her
husband back," said Tony Oppegard, one of the attorneys
representing Cole's family.
Attempts to reach officials at the companies Thursday were
unsuccessful.
Another miner, Brandon Wilder, 23, was killed in the collapse.
Wilder's body was recovered about eight hours after the collapse,
but two more rock falls hindered the search and injured two people.
The deaths prompted $360,000 in federal fines against Stillhouse
Mining.
They also focused attention on so-called retreat mining, a
practice that has been blamed for the deaths of at least 17 coal
miners in the past seven years. The process requires the removal of
coal pillars, which hold up the roof.
In underground coal mining, crews first do what's called advance
mining, digging into the mountain to remove coal. Coal pillars 25
to 100 feet across are left in place, resulting in a network of
tunnels.
When companies have advanced as far as possible, they begin
retreat mining, so named because the miners are working toward the
outside of the mine. The process usually allows the companies to
remove 20 percent or more of the remaining coal.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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