Entry for November 17, 2006

Photo of Wilbur Ross and his wife Hiliary (the two on the left) from a gala at La Cirque 2000 honoring “King of Couture” Arnold Scaasi (that’s Isaacs spelled backwards!) from the November 2004 issue of  The Hamtons Sheet.


The Hamptons has become a global symbol of glamour, celebrity, and success: a constant whirl of social events for the world’s most famous names and faces in entertainment and the arts, media, business, politics, and A-list society.

And lest you think that the Sago disaster has sobered his lifestyle, the New York Social Diary featured his picture from the Whitny Gala October 23.  Not to mention on October 10

up at the Sherry-Netherland Hilary and Wilbur Ross were throwing a big cocktail party in their spanking-practically-new Mario Buatta designed apartment for the Parrish Art Museum of Southampton which is having its big autumn gala out there next weekend. Missed that one too. 

Wilbur’s on my mind again because Wednesday, Mark Reutter, author of Making Steel, emailed me saying he had read on the  breaking news at the Charleston Gazette that

This afternoon, billionaire Wilbur Ross was added to the lawsuit by the families of the dead Sago W.Va. miners

Ken Ward, Jr.  had filed a story at 3:56 p.m., “New Sago disaster lawsuits name Ross as defendant,”   available now  via Google’s cache.

Six new lawsuits were filed Wednesday on behalf of the families of miners killed in the Sago Mine disaster, and this time the families have name New York billionaire Wilbur Ross as a defendant.

The suits were filed in Kanawha Circuit Court on behalf of the estates of Sago miners Tom Anderson, Jerry Groves, George Junior Hamner, Terry Helms and Fred Ware, and on behalf of the adult daughter of Sago victim James Bennett….Several additional cases were also expected to be filed before the close of business Wednesday.

 The Circuit Court does not have online copies of the suits, WBOY-TV has posted State Journal reporter Juliet Terry (emailaccount of the August suits with copies of the suits, but  there’s nothing there yet on the newest suits.  Mark, however, sent me a pdf file,  which he made available at his website, along ith his story analyzing the press coverage and lack of mention of Ross’s name by the New York Time  and other major papers.

There’s one small addition to his story, I’d add:  Vickie Smith’s AP story  story appeared at  The USA Story 3:44 p.m. with the Ross reference intact under the title Sago miners families sue.

Maybe we should write letters to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the LA Times  mentioning the ommission.  Likewise kudos to the Houston Chronicle and others who printed the story intact, including, even Forbes Magazine’s site.

*

Novemeber 9, in his usual attention to follow-up,  Ken Ward Jr.  had written about the latest developments on the Sago mine disaster suits  in his story, Judge blocks Sago suit action.” 

As I wrote  on August 26, 

on August 23, Randal and Anna McCloy sued International Coal Group and its subsidiary, Wolf Run Mining  in the Kanawha County, West Virginia  Circuit Court in Charleston, West Virginia. In civil action no. 06-C-1684.  Also sued were Burrell Mining Products, manufacturers of  Omega Block, Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply, the distributor, as well as GMS Mine Repair and Maintenance, the company which constructed the seals and CSE Corporation, who manufactured the self-rescuers. 

Also suing were Judy Bennett on behalf of deceased miner Alva Bennett in civil case number 06-C-1685 and Lily and John Bennett on behalf of deceased miner James Bennet in civil case number 06-C-1686,  The two Bennetts were unrelated.

Ward informs us that in a morning hearing  Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King consolidated the cases for purposes of discovery and said he would decide later if trials would be combined. 

Attorneys for the defendents asked for a stay until the rest of the families  sued or the January  2, 2008 deadline for them to do so had passed. ICG lawyers also said the company did not want to have to go through duplicative legal interviews or repeat the process of providing relevant documents over and over and wanted to wait until state and federal government investigations of the Sago disaster are closed.

When the victims objected to the long delay and King also was  unreceptive, the GMS attorney suggested a stay of 60 days.  King agreed,  saying he wanted to see if the other 10 Sago families would file suits by then.  King acknowledged

There are other potential lawsuits out there.

*

Sure enough, as Ward writes in his story filed November 16, “More Sago suits filed: New cases target Ross’ role at ICG,”   lawyers filed nine suits in Kanawha Circuit Court on November 15.  Seven were on behalf of the estates and families of miners Tom Anderson, Jerry Lee Groves, George Junior Hamner, Terry Helms, Fred Ware Jr., Jackie Weaver and Marshall Winans. Representing the various  families are Allan N. Karlin of Morgantown, Paul R. Cranston of Morgantown, Hunter B. Mullens of Philippi, and Scott Segal of Charleston.  Two additional suits were filed Ann Merideth, the daughter of miner James Bennett, and by John Groves, the brother of miner Jerry Lee Groves, and other members of Groves’ family.

Vickie Smith’s AP story specifies that six of the suits suits charge IGC and Wolf Run:

  • Cheryl Ann Merideth, daughter of miner James Bennett
  • Amber and Nick Helms, the children of fireboss Terry Helms and Virginia Moore, Helms’ fiancee
  • Peggy Cohen, daughter of miner Fred Ware
  • Lynda Anderson, widow of Tom Anderson
  • Deborah and Michelle Rose, widow and daughter of Jerry Groves
  • Deborah Hamner and Sara Bailey, the widow and daughter of George Junior Hamner.

The suits accuse the companies of  

 the knowing, willful and deliberate exposure of Sago miners to unsafe working conditions.

and  seek compensation from ICG’s Wolf Run Miningunder the “deliberate intent” exception to  immunity provided employers in West Virginia that have workers’ compensation insurance.  In such cases, according to Ward

workers must prove, among other things, that the employer was aware of specific unsafe working conditions that presented a major risk of serious injury or death.

The suits allege ICG and Wolf Run was aware of inadequate

  • protection from lightning strikes and explosions
  •  planning for and sealing
  •  planning and preparation for mine emergencies

and failed to

  • “take timely and appropriate action” to try to rescue the trapped miners
  • promptly notify government regulators
  • prepare an appropriate rescue plan
  •  promptly notify mine rescue teams
  • aske those teams to come immediately to the Sago Mine
  • “engaged in conduct intended to obstruct a full and complete investigation” by miners’  families and their lawyers
  • discouraged mine employees “from discussing their knowledge about the mine, the explosion at the mine, and the events following the explosion with relatives of the miners who died or were injured as a result of the explosion, with their representatives.”

The new suits  accuse ICG of negligence and add Ross and his company, WL Ross & Co. LLC, as a defendant.  Since the computer I’m using won’t let me cut and paste from the pdf file for the suit, I’ll quote from Ward, who says that  ICG hired Ross’ company in  in October 2004,

 to provide “advisory services” for a fee of $500,000 per quarter. Ross, the suits allege, was aware of unsafe conditions at the Sago Mine and should have advised ICG that such conditions were not tolerable.

The new suites, like those filed in August, also name as defendents:

  • Burrell Mining Products, maker of the foam “Omega” blocks which failed to contain  the explosion in a sealed area of the mine
  • Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply, distributor of the blocks
  • GMS Mine Repair, a contractor which helped to build the seals
  • CSE Corp., which provided the emergency breathing devices, which failed and thus  “afforded less time for the trapped miners to develop an implement a viable plan for survival and foreclosed any reasonable possibility of escape.”

Several of the suits add as new defendents the following electrical contractors, for not properly installing  or maintain electrical systems at the mine

  • Hughes Electric Supply
  • Electrotech Inc. 

*

ICG is facing at least two other suits in West Virginia.  According to J. Turchetta WBOY bureau chief for Upshur, Randolph and Tucker Counties (email) in his story Judge Hears Suit Against Sago posted  September 7

Upshur Circuit Court Judge Thomas Keadle held an injuction hearing in a law suit  the company and Win-Jean and H-W-M trucking companies. ruling that the plaintiffs in this case are to stay away from the mine and the truck driving company, and vice versa.

Three residents filed a lawsuit in August saying the amount of truck traffic on Sago road is destroying properties and causing a large amount of coal dust in the area. Said one plaintiff’s  attorney William Ford:

I don’t think my client is going to have any problem with the injunciton…  He hasn’t done anything to warrat that. It isn’t a pleasant result, but hopefully my client can live with it.

And Chris Dickerson of the West Virginia Record reported on January 19, 2006 “Webster County miner sues after falling over gob at sister mine to Sago.”Thursday, January 19, 2006.  The suit says ICG subsidiary Wolf Run Mining Company and Anker Group, a company acuired by ICG, were negligent and acted with deliberate intent.

John K. Shaffer and Nancy Shaffer filed the lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court against Wolf Run Mining Company and Anker Group Inc.

In the suit, Shaffer says he was working as a mechanic electrician at the Spruce Fork Mine No. 1 underground mine near Buckhannon on Jan. 2, 2004, when he fell over a large amount of excessive gob. The incident coincidentally occurred two years to the day before the Sago mine explosion…

In the suit, filed by Charleston attorneys Timothy C. Bailey and Dan R. Snuffer, Shaffer says he and co-workers complained about the excessive gob on numerous occasions, including at safety meetings. He claims mine management refused to take action to remedy the situation.

The suit claims the defendants were responsible for the maintenance and inspection of travelways and walkways to ensure they were in a safe condition. That includes removing gob and other material, especially along belt entries in accordance with a written cleanup plan for the mine.

Shaffer says the mine failed to adequately maintain and inspect these travelways and walkways.

“Large amounts of excessive gob were continually present in the travelways and walkways along the belt entries which resulted in much less than the required 24 inches of unobstructed clearance for employees to walk in these areas,” he says in the suit….

Before the Jan. 2 accident at Sago that claimed 12 miners, statistics showed the neighboring Spruce Fork Mine was more dangerous, primarily because of a weak roof that frequently collapsed.

There were 45 roof falls at Spruce Fork in 2004 and 24 through August 2005. That compared with eight roof falls at Sago in 2004 and 19 for all of 2005.

The Spruce Fork Mine now is closed.

Shaffer’s case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey Walker.

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