The widow of a Letcher County coal miner who died on the job last year would not have to be suing Arch Coal Inc. for more than $37 million if the company had done "the right thing" and offered adequate financial support for the woman and her two children, the attorney who filed the lawsuit says.
"It would be nice if just once a coal company would take responsibility for its actions and do the right thing for a fatherless family, but they never do," Lexington attorney Tony Oppegard said after filing a suit in Letcher Circuit Court last week on behalf of Susie Sturgill of Cowan, widow of miner Roy Douglas Sturgill II.
The suit, which names St. Louisbased Arch and its Appalachia, Va.- based subsidiary, Cumberland River Coal Co., alleges that the company committed blatant safety violations that caused Sturgill’s death.
Sturgill, 29, died Jan. 8, 2008, after the Caterpillar 777B rock truck he was driving backed over a highwall and split in two as it tumbled 202 feet down a steep slope. The accident occurred at Cumberland River Coal’s Blue Ridge Mine at Ovenfork. An investigation by the state Office of Mine Safety and Licensing said the accident could have been prevented if Cumberland River Coal had followed state law.
"The company’s gross negligence caused Roy’s death," Oppegard said, "and left his wife and two children without the means to support themselves. But the company will blame Roy for his own death, fight the family tooth and nail in court, and try to avoid paying the Sturgills one red cent. It’s a shame." rier, or berm, at the top of a highwall was constructed with damp soil and ranged in height from 17 to 46 inches. The berm was supposed to be sturdy and tall enough to allow a rock truck’s wheels to back against it, but not roll over it.
The lawsuit says a company supervisor, Gene Combs, looked at the berm just minutes before the accident.
"A few minutes later, you have a dead miner," said Oppegard.
Sturgill was employed by Bates Contracting in Whitesburg, a contucky that supplies workers to coal companies. He had only been a rock-truck driver for 12 days before the accident, and had only driven on the night shift four times, the lawsuit said. Bates Contracting was not named in the lawsuit.
State and federal regulators cited Cumberland River Coal over the inadequate berm. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration accused the company of high negligence and proposed a penalty of $60,000 for the alleged safety violation. The company is contesting the penalty, according to MSHA’s Web site.