Maryland Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over 2007 Mine Collapse

A lawsuit was filed last week in Maryland by the families of two coal miners who were killed in a 2007 mine collapse.

The Maryland wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Allegany County Circuit Court by the families of Michael Wilt, 38, and Dale Jones, 51. The two men died in a high-wall collapse at Tri-Star Mining Inc. in Barton, when they were buried under 93,000 tons of rubble. It took rescue workers three days to recover their bodies.

The claim names as defendants several employees of Tri-Star Mining Inc., including owner George Beener; the land owner, BTC Developments, also owned by Beener; BTC Trucking; Dugan Associates, a consulting firm for the mine; Western Maryland Associates, which handled ground control planning and surface mine applications for the mine; Highland Engineering & Surveying Inc., which mapped the mine; and Bituminous Safety Services, Inc., which provided safety training programs for the miners.

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The $8 million lawsuit charges the defendants with negligence, saying that the miners were told that it was safe to work at the base of the 275-foot high sheer wall created by strip mining in the pit. The company received multiple citations following the accident from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MHSA) for failing to complete an inspection of the wall. The lawsuit alleges that if the inspection had been completed, it would have shown that the wall was unstable, and that its condition had been worsened by four days of raining before its collapse.

Tri-Star agreed in May to pay $105,000 in fines for six violations, which included criticisms of negligence from federal reviewers.

The lawsuit comes as national attention has focused on mine safety following a deadly explosion at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, which killed 29 people. A wrongful death lawsuit has already been filed in connection to the fatal mining accident by Marlene Griffith, the wife of William Griffith, one of the workers that died in the accident.

Federal investigators have found more than 60 serious safety violations at the company in just the one week since that explosion.

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