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West Virginia has a booming coal mining industry. Since the mid-1800s, West Virginians have dug mines to excavate coal as a resource. Today, coal mining is still one of the most important jobs in the state’s economy. Thousands of people work in West Virginia’s coal industry, with almost 11,000 working directly in underground mines. Unfortunately, coal mining is also one of the deadliest industries due to the risk of serious disasters. Workers have a high risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time while coal mining.
Most mining disasters throughout history have involved explosions or collapses of underground mines while workers were present. A mine could collapse from natural causes or a mistake on the miners’ part. A mine could also collapse in an explosion. Explosions can occur in mining if sparks or open flames contact a build-up of methane gas in the mine. West Virginia mining disasters have taken thousands of workers’ lives since the 1800s.
Other mining industry tragedies have taken hundreds of workers’ lives throughout the state, including the Bartley Mine Explosion of 1940, Sago Mining Disaster in 2006 and the Upper Big Branch Mining Disaster in 2010. Although the mining industry has grown safer with new technologies, disasters can and do still occur.
As a worker injured in a West Virginia mining disaster, you could be eligible for financial recovery through two different outlets. The first is a workers’ compensation claim. The state’s workers’ compensation system provides benefits to injured workers hurt on the job without the burden of proving fault. All employers with three or more employees must provide workers’ compensation coverage, with some exceptions. Workers’ compensation will typically apply to any type of accident or injury, as long as it occurred while the employee was performing work-related tasks.
To file a workers’ compensation claim after a mining disaster, first report the incident to your employer within 30 days. Your employer will then file a claim with the state’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner. You will have six months from the date of the mining disaster to file this form. The insurance company will respond with a claim acceptance or denial, at which point you may either accept the offered settlement or explore your other options. If someone else’s negligence caused the mining disaster, you may be able to receive greater compensation through a civil lawsuit.
A personal injury lawsuit would seek to hold one or more parties legally responsible for causing or contributing to the mining disaster. An employer or coworker’s negligence could be to blame for serious worker injuries or wrongful deaths. If this is the case, a personal injury lawsuit could result in greater compensation for the injured party than accepting a workers’ comp settlement. You cannot, however, file a claim against your employer once you accept workers’ comp. For this reason, it is important to discuss all your legal options with a personal injury attorney in West Virginia before making a move.