Saturday, January 07, 2006

Recalling the Southmountain case

The recent events in West Virginia have given me pause to recollect the Southmountain explosion from some years ago. On December 7, 1992, an explosion killed a number of coal miners in the Southmountain No. 3 mine in Wise County.

In Fleming v. Apple Coal, 49 Va. Cir. 290 (1999), Judge Stump sustained the worker's comp bar plea of the parent company of Southmountain, leaving the plaintiffs with workers compensation as their exclusive remedy under Virginia law. (Virginia law does not make the same exceptions to the comp bar as does West Virginia law, see W.Va. Code § 23-4-2(c),(d).)

In Fleming v. U.S., 152 F. Supp.2d 886 (W.D. Va. 2001), Judge Jones found for the government after a bench trial under the Federal Tort Claims Act, in which the plaintiffs sought to prove that the negligence of MSHA inspectors was a proximate cause of the explosion. The Federal Tort Claims Act is the exclusive remedy for claims against federal employees who commit torts while acting within the scope of their employment.

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