A mine supervisor and a coal company put production over safety prior to an underground explosion last year that killed five miners, relatives and the sole survivor alleged Monday in a lawsuit.
The lawsuit cited numerous safety violations issued by regulators against Kentucky Darby LLC, coal boss Ralph Napier and Jericol Mining, which provided management, planning, engineering and safety training to Darby Mine No. 1.
The plaintiffs also seek damages against the Pennsylvania company that makes the emergency air packs used by the victims.
The lawsuit was filed in Harlan County a year and a day after the blast, which was ignited by miners Jimmy Lee and shift foreman Amon “Cotton” Brock as they used an open torch near a methane leak.
Brock’s widow is the only widow not named as a plaintiff. The other four widows and Paul Ledford, the sole survivor, seek unspecified damages.
They allege Napier hired Brock as a foreman despite warnings that Brock was an unsafe foreman who regularly violated safety laws and placed coal production ahead of safety, the lawsuit states.
Brock also was one of two foremen who supervised construction of the underground seals that were supposed to isolate methane, a naturally occurring gas in coal mines, according to the complaint.
The protective seal at the explosion site was poorly constructed and failed to meet federal guidelines, according to investigators.
Brock, 51, and Lee, 33, died at the scene of the blast. Roy Middleton, 35, Paris Thomas Jr., 53, and Bill Petra, 49, died from carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation while trying to escape.
Ledford suffered permanent damage to his lungs from smoke inhalation.
The named defendants include the manufacturer and distributors of metal straps used as roof supports; CSE Corp., which manufactured the emergency air packs Middleton, Thomas, Petra and Ledford used; and the distributor of the air packs.
Monroeville, Pa.-based CSE has about 65 percent of the national market for the packs, which typically provide miners with one hour of clean air.
The plaintiffs claim the packs were defective, though investigators with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded the devices worked properly in the Darby disaster.
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