CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A long battle for the widows of the Aracoma mine disaster appears drawing to a close with a proposed settlement currently before U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver.
Aracoma widows Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield have reached terms with the federal government.
Bragg and Hatfield filed the the lawsuit after the Jan. 2006 deaths of their husbands, Don Bragg and Elvis Hatfield. They died in a belt fire at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County. Bragg and Hatfield got separated from others miners on their crew because of the heavy smoke and lack of proper ventilation and didn’t make it out alive. The lawsuit, originally filed four years ago, blamed the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for a lack of inspections at the mine and various conflicts of interest.
Attorney Bruce Stanley, who represents the widows in the case, said Monday his clients are happy the settlement will make a difference in mine safety.
“(MSHA) will undertake a new safety training program at the academy down by Beckley to train miners in underground fire protection so we don’t have another Aracoma,” Stanley said.
The settlement will also pay the widows a total of $1 million and allow them to see some transcripts of interviews conducted during the investigation.
Stanley has shepherded the case from state court, to federal court and up the appeals ladder during the last four years. He said he’s glad an agreeable settlement is now being considered.
“I am grateful that the widows will not have to sit through a trial and relive the horrific events of Jan. 2006 again. So in that regard, we’re quite pleased with the result.”
Stanley said for the widows the lawsuit was all about holding accountable those responsible for the deaths of their husbands.
“It’s worth it but I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. Let alone the initial tragedy and the pain and suffering caused by that,” he said.
Judge Copenhaver is expected to schedule a hearing to discuss the terms of the settlement. The judge will make the final decision.
Stanley said the most disappointing aspect is Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield were speaking out against the practices of Massey Energy several years before the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners
“Very few things were more hurtful to them than to know that after Aracoma– to have Upper Big Branch to come on top on what they have already experienced when they were trying to tell the world you need to get after these (Massey) operations,” Stanley said.