With the mining accident that occurred recently in Raleigh County, West Virginia many people, including coal miners, have asked us “what does it take to sue a coal company”. This question is interesting and is more complicated than one might think.
First, simply because someone has been hurt or killed in a coal mine does not by itself mean that you can file a lawsuit against the coal company. West Virginia law recognizes that bad accidents occur in the work place, including coal mines, and that by itself does not mean the injured worker can sue the company. In fact, that is why the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Fund was designed.
If a worker has been injured or killed in a coal mine the first line of compensation and sometimes the only remedy is through the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Fund. The West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Fund works in essence as a “no fault” system where the employee/worker does not have to prove that the coal company did something wrong. Typically, if the worker was injured on the job then Workers’ Compensation would pay for the injured worker’s medical expenses and provide additional compensation for lost wages. This is what typically happens.
However, there are circumstances where the employee, or the employee’s family, can go around workers’ compensation and sue the coal company for what is referred to as “deliberate intent”. This is an exception to the Workers’ Compensation Statutes that allow a miner, or a miner’s family, to directly sue the coal company for damages in circumstances where all of the following facts can be proven:
A. That a specific unsafe working condition existed in the work place which presented a high degree of risk and a strong probability of serious injury or death;
B. That the employer, prior to the injury, had actual knowledge of the existence of the specific unsafe working condition and of the high degree of risk and strong probability of serious injury or death presented by the specific unsafe working condition;
C. That the specific unsafe working condition was a violation of state or federal safety statutes, rule or regulation or of a commonly accepted and well known safety standard within the industry;
D. The employer intentionally exposed an employee to the specific unsafe working condition; and
E. The employee exposed suffered serious injury or death as a direct and proximate result of the specific unsafe working condition.
In these circumstances the worker, or worker’s family, can directly sue the coal company for wrongful death damages which include the conscious pain and suffering of the coal miner prior to his death, the funeral expenses, as well as sorrow, mental anguish, loss of companionship suffered by the family as a result of the death of their loved one. However, punitive damages are not permitted under West Virginia law in these circumstances.
If anyone has questions concerning the mining accident that occurred in Raleigh County or has questions about work place accidents or needs assistance in any of these areas, please give us a call at (304) 599-4229 or (888)-860-1414.