2013-12-11 / Front Page

Judge won’t dismiss Letcher miner’s suit

A U.S. District Court Judge in Pikeville has denied the motion of Arch Coal Inc. to dismiss a personal injury lawsuit filed by Letcher County coal miner Jarrod Sergent and his wife Linda.

Sergent, 34, lives at Deane with his wife and four children. He was severely injured in a rock fall at ICG Knott County’s Kathleen mine on September 19, 2011, which resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee. Since the accident, Sergent has undergone several surgeries because of problems with his prosthetic leg.

In September 2012, Sergent and his wife sued ICG Knott County and Arch Coal, ICG’s parent company, in Knott Circuit Court, alleging that their negligence had caused the accident and Sergent’s injuries. Arch had the case removed to federal court rather than having it tried in state court. The federal court subsequently dismissed ICG Knott County from the case because it was immune under Kentucky’s stringent workers’ compensation law.

In order to keep the case against Arch Coal from being tossed out of court, the Sergents had to present enough evidence to convince the federal judge, Amul R. Thapar, that their claim against Arch deserved to be heard by a jury. The judge ruled that the Sergents’ claim that Arch had assumed a duty for safety at the Kathleen mine — based on actions taken by Stewart Bailey, Arch’s regional safety manager — was backed up by enough evidence to proceed to trial.

The judge wrote that Bailey had visited the mine shortly before the roof fall that injured Sergent, and, according to a miner at the face, he had involved himself in safety matters regarding the mine roof. Accordingly, the judge will hold a conference with the attorneys in the case this Friday to set the case for trial.

Tony Oppegard, the Lexington attorney who represents the Sergents, said that his clients are looking forward to presenting their case to a federal jury in Pikeville.

“It’s a shame that big coal companies never do the right thing when a miner is severely injured in their mines,” said Oppegard. “ Instead of taking care of the miner and his family, they fight like hell to keep from having to pay him a dime. As soon as a miner is badly injured and is no longer productive, the company throws him onto the scrap heap.”

Arch has alleged in its court filings that Sergent hasn’t suffered any pain as a result of the accident.

“That’s an extremely demeaning position to take,” Oppegard said. “ Jarrod Sergent was a hardworking and skilled miner who doesn’t deserve to be treated that way.”

Arch Coal, based in St. Louis, is represented in this case by Kelley Williams, an attorney with the Lexington law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl.

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