Court: W.Va. justices must rule on MSHA liability

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - A federal appeals court says the West Virginia Supreme Court should decide whether Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors can be held liable for coal miners' deaths.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled Tuesday there is no legal precedent, constitutional authority or statute to definitively answer the question. Yet it has "exceptional importance" in West Virginia.

The widows of miners Don Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield sued over a 2006 conveyer belt fire at Massey Energy's Aracoma Alma No. 1.

They accused MSHA of negligence and argued inspectors should held be liable under state law.

U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver dismissed the case. He said MSHA couldn't be held liable under state law because a private person in the same circumstances couldn't be held liable.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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