Ohio family sues contractor over W.Va. mine deaths

VICKI SMITH Associated Press Published:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- The father of a 25-year-old coal miner killed in West Virginia's Upper Big Branch disaster is suing an Ohio-based company that was under contract to do safety examinations for Massey Energy.

Scott Napper of Langsville, Ohio, sued independent contractor David Stanley Consultants of St. Clairsville, Ohio, in Raleigh County Circuit Court on Thursday, exactly two years after the worst U.S. mining disaster in decades.

The blast killed 29 men, including his son, Josh.

Josh's uncle, 51-year-old Tim Davis Sr., and cousin, 20-year-old Cory Davis, also died in the explosion that began as a methane gas ignition then turned into a massive, chain-reaction blast fueled by combustible coal dust that had been allowed to accumulate. Ventilation and equipment problems contributed to the blast, which traveled 7 miles of underground corridors.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration cited David Stanley for two contributory violations in the disaster in December.

The wrongful death lawsuit says Josh Napper was working for David Stanley, and it's as much to blame as Massey for failing to correct the conditions that led to the explosion.

Officials with David Stanley didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Months before his death, Josh Napper gave his fiancee an envelope with a handwritten letter to his then 19-month-old daughter, Jenna, suggesting that he was worried about conditions at the mine.

"If anything happens to me," it said, "I will be looking down from heaven."

Shortly after the blast, Pam Napper told The Associated Press that her son had been sent home early the Friday before the explosion because of concerns about ventilation.

In all, MSHA's final report on the disaster detailed 369 safety violations at Upper Big Branch, including 12 it said contributed to the explosion.

MSHA labeled nine of the violations that led to the accident as flagrant, the most serious designation, and said they included illegally tipping off miners that inspectors were on the site and failing to conduct proper safety inspections.

The lawsuit says that while some unsafe conditions were created by Massey, others were created by David Stanley's failure to do the job it was hired to do.

Failure to do weekly exams between Jan. 1, 2010, and April 5, 2010, "created a very obvious hazardous condition" that was "more than ordinary negligence," it contends.

The complaint says the company also failed to do adequate pre-shift and on-shift exams; failed to comply with approved training plans; failed to follow the approved ventilation and roof control plans; and failed to adequately apply pulverized limestone that neutralizes coal dust.

The lawsuit demands unspecified compensation for loss of income, mental anguish and more.