West Va. Mine Survivor McCloy, Families of Deceased, Eligible for Benefits, Officials Say

January 6, 2006

Randal McCloy Jr., the only survivor brought out alive from the 260-foot-deep International Coal Group Mine, will be eligible for medical benefits and wage replacement benefits immediately, and will receive workers’ compensation benefits based on the extent of his injuries, according to state officials and the workers’ compensation carrier, BrickStreet Mutual Insurance.

Andy Wessels, director of corporate affairs for the Charleston, W.Va. BrickStreet, told Insurance Journal that the families and dependents of the 12 miners who died in the accident would receive workers’ compensation benefits.

McCloy, 26, of Simpson, W.Va. was rescued early Wednesday after being trapped in the Sago Mine near Tallmansville for more than 42 hours. Twelve other miners died.

McCloy was struggling with the effects of oxygen deprivation to his vital organs, including his brain, and remained in a coma, Dr. John Prescott said Thursday at the West Virginia University hospital. McCloy was moved to Pittsburgh, Pa. on Thursday to undergo oxygen treatment.

“We are extremely concerned for the loved ones of the victims of this terrible mine tragedy,” Jane L. Cline, West Virginia Insurance Commissioner said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.”

Cline said surviving family members are entitled to death benefits in the amount of approximately two-thirds of the employees’ average weekly wage up to the maximum of $568.78 per week. Surviving family members are entitled to funeral benefits.

The commissioner said McCloy’s benefits depend on his health outcome; however, all of the health care for his injuries will be provided as part of his workers’ compensation benefits.

“We will not be able to determine McCloy’s benefits until we have a better idea of his long-term medical prognosis,” BrickStreet’s Wessels explained. Brickstreet provides workers’ compensation insurance covering 42,000 West Virginia businesses.

Wessels said the families of the miners who died in the accident will receive a workers’ compensation benefits of up to $5,000 paid to the funeral home for its services. He said there is a workers’ compensation family dependent benefit which would be two-thirds of the average weekly wage of the worker for the proceeding 12 months, up to a maximum of $568.78 per week, and that is for as long as the dependency lasts or until the worker would have reached age 70.

In the case of a dependent spouse Wessels said the benefits would continue until the deceased would have been 70. The benefits for dependents continue until the dependent reaches 18, or if they stay in school, until 25 and there are some provisions about incapacitated independent children. He pointed out that none of the benefits are subject to state or federal income taxes.

“We have been working closely with International Coal Group representatives,” Wessels said, “and when the time is appropriate will send a team of claims management people to meet with the families individually and help them provide the appropriate paperwork and begin to receive their benefits as quickly as possible. We will take our cue from the company about when that will be appropriate to do so.”

State, Federal Agencies Control Mine Safety
When asked by Insurance Journal about mine safety and numerous accidents that were previously reported at the mine, Cline said enforcement of mine safety was outside her jurisdiction, and falls to state and federal agencies such as the federal Miners’ Safety and Health Administration.

“Employers are provided premium incentives for providing and participating in safety programs,” Cline said. “But the regulation of mining safety does not fall under the regulatory purview of the Insurance Commission or the former Workers’ Compensation Commission (now know as BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Company). “Workers’ compensation premiums of companies are partially based on individual loss records.”

“Workers’ compensation has no relationship to mine safety, but Brickstreet offers safety and loss control services that are non-regulatory,” Wessels said. “We provide voluntary feedback to businesses about how to institute safety programs to helps them improve workplace safety. We have an extensive staff of safety and loss control specialists, many of whom literally wrote the regulation book and came to work for Brickstreet,” Wessels explained.

“Without a doubt, the loss of life is very saddening and hangs very heavily on the coal mining industry in West Virginia today,” John M. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Jacobs Financial Group Inc. said. “I have been around coal all my life, it is a very dangerous occupation, the safety hazards are many, however and they have improved safety standards over the years.”

Jacobs’ firm, with the support of the West Virginia Coal Association, recently acquired the West Virginia Fire and Casualty Co. from the Celina Insurance Company. The firm will provide reclamation bonding services to the coal, and oil and gas industries.

Jacobs, who has been closely involved with West Virginia’s mining community for many years, said that most such communities are very close-knit. He described miners as part of a very proud profession, in which they can make a very good living and raise a family, and a “profession comprised of third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation miners who are tight-knit and grieving tremendously.”

“No doubt there will be repercussions, safety-wise, there is always a full-length investigation. I am sure the governor was on top of the situation right away. Federal and state regulators were there immediately and it is something they will pick up, investigate and turn over every piece of evidence that caused the accident. Unfortunately, when there is a loss of life they learn a lot more.”

“The important thing with regard to coal is when you start going north in West Virginia, the coal becomes richer and higher in quality, and has a higher BTU and therefore, there is a lot more gas underground,” Jacobs explained. “In terms of an accident like just occurred, it involves natural resources and the Mother Nature does not always cooperate.

Many Uncertainties
“You can be very safety-conscious, but there are still uncertainties out there that can cause an accident to happen,” he said. “Unfortunately in this arena they have learned much over the years, but whenever there is a mistake, typically there is an accident and in most cases a loss of life. That is why it is a highly regulated industry and that is why safety issues have to be the top issue priority. You tend to forget everything else when something like this happens.”

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