Miners Injured at Lucky Friday Mine Sue Hecla

December 16, 2013

The operator of a 71-year-old northern Idaho silver mine that was beset by fatal and injury accidents two years ago has been hit by another lawsuit, this time filed by four miners who say managers dispatched them deep underground into unsafe working conditions while lying that the area was safe.

The Spokesman-Review reports Ronnel E. Barrett, Gregg Hammerberg, Eric J. Tester and Matthew Williams are seeking more than $1 million from Hecla Mining Co. for injuries, medical treatment and lost wages as a result of the accident at the Lucky Friday Mine in December 2011.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in 1st District Court in Idaho, also names the Lucky Friday Mine manager, superintendent and safety foreman. Hecla officials said they hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined comment.

Hecla and its managers ignored increasing incidents of rock bursts and failed to take measures to protect workers at the underground silver mine in Mullan, Idaho, according to the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, Hecla also was sued by the family of a miner, Larry Marek, who was crushed to death by tons of rock during a tunnel collapse in April 2011.

The Lucky Friday experienced a string of rock bursts, starting in the latter half of 2010.

After Marek died, for instance, another rock burst occurred in the same area of the mine on Nov. 16, 2011. Though no workers were injured, the burst registered as a 2.8-magnitude quake on seismographs, and residents as far away as Wallace reported feeling the earth rumble.

According to this week’s lawsuit, managers failed to take measures to protect workers despite these warning signs.

For instance, the men contend Hecla knew from two consultants’ reports in November that the area where they were working remained unsafe, but lied to the four workers who were sent to install a steel liner to stabilize the rock a month later.

After the miners were injured, a federal mine inspection team was dispatched to the Lucky Friday Mine, leading to citations for safety violations.

Hecla, the nation’s largest primary silver producer, had its Lucky Friday Mine shuttered in early 2012 as safety concerns mounted.

Among other things, a federal report indicated that officials at the mine failed to conduct the second of two daily monitoring checks on the day the four miners who are suing were injured.

“The company disregarded the safety of the miners by failing to do the required testing,” a federal inspector wrote in his report, issued in early 2012.

The Lucky Friday, which has produced more than 10 million tons of ore since it began operating during the height of World War II in 1942, was re-opened in 2013 after rehabilitation work was completed and it received safety clearance from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

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