Whitesburg KY

Widow settles with coal firm


A woman who lobbied the General Assembly for safer coal mines after her husband was killed in a roof fall has agreed to a settlement in a lawsuit over his death.

A joint notice filed in federal court said Claudia Cole and the companies, including Stillhouse Mining LLC and Black Mountain Resources, had reached the agreement, the Lexington Herald Leader reported Monday.

Russell Cole Sr., 39, of Partridge, and Brandon Wilder, 23, were killed at the Stillhouse No. 1 mine near Cumberland in August 2005. Federal regulators cited Stillhouse for six violations, including failure to follow an approved roof-control plan and proposed what was then the maximum fine of $360,000.

Federal inspectors have since cited the company for allegedly operating the mine without proper ventilation and proposed fines of more than $700,000.

Earlier this year, Cole and several of her neighbors who had also lost spouses in the mines persuaded lawmakers to pass sweeping mine safety legislation.

A lawyer for Claudia Cole said he could not discuss the terms of the settlement, and a Stillhouse Mining lawyer was not available.

Cole was pleased with the settlement, which will help take care of the family, including two teenage daughters, said Tony Oppegard, a Lexington-based attorney who represents Cole.

“I was just glad to get it over with so my kids wouldn’t have to go through a trial or anything,” the newspaper quoted Cole as saying Monday.

Cole had sought $1.5 million in compensatory damages, $50 million in damages to punish the companies and $15 million for the loss of companionship to Cole and the couple’s daughters. The suit was filed againt Stillhouse and several companies that allegedly provided management or other services, including Black Mountain Resources.

The lawsuit alleged that Stillhouse failed to train miners in the use of mobile roof supports and in the plan for removing pillars of coal that helped support the roof.

Shortly before the roof fall that killed Russell Cole and Wilder, a test boring showed a large crack in the roof, but the company told miners to keep working in unsafe conditions, the lawsuit alleged.

Stillhouse and the other companies denied any reckless, careless or malicious acts in connection with the deaths. Russell Cole was foreman at the mine; his own negligence played a substantial role in the accident, Stillhouse and the other defendants said.

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