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Fatal accident in mine culminates in criminal conviction

Anyone in the Charleston area who follows the news has probably heard about Don Blankenship's recent criminal trial. Blankenship is the former chief executive officer of Massey Energy, which has substantial coal operations in West Virginia. Roughly six years ago, a terrible explosion in one of Massey's coal mines caused the deaths of 29 workers.

At criminal proceedings, federal prosecutors argued that Blankenship was to blame for a conspiracy that led to the miner's deaths. Jurors convicted Blankenship of conspiracy to willfully violate mining safety standards, which is a misdemeanor charge. Although his conviction can only result in a jail sentence of up to one year, he could have to pay tens of millions of dollars in restitution.

In addition to Blankenship's criminal conviction and the penalties that could follow, conduct like that for which he was convicted often results in civil lawsuits. When an accident leads to fatalities, the family members of the victims can pursue a wrongful death cause of action.

Some occupations, like coal mining, have many inherent risks that can cause fatal accidents. However, that is no excuse for coal companies and their management to cut corners when it comes to the safety of their workers.

Blankenship's criminal conviction shows that in the eyes of the law, he shirked his responsibility to Massey's coal miners. He now must face the consequences that go along with such a conviction. Furthermore, a criminal conviction involving a wrongful death case can often be used as evidence in a civil lawsuit that arises from the same incident or a related one.

The mining disaster is a tragic reminder of just how bad things can end up when safety takes a back seat to other concerns. This is just as true in mining as it is in other work environments, such as hospitals and roadways.

Source: WSAZ, "Prosecutors: Blankenship may have to pay tens of millions," Dec. 17, 2015

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