West Virginia Court Upholds Mine Safety Office Authority

By | November 3, 2010

The authority of West Virginia’s mine safety office to suspend coal miners has been upheld by the state Supreme Court.

The decision stems from the death of locomotive driver Victor Goudy at Consol Energy’s McElroy Mine two years ago. Goudy died after he was pinned between a locomotive and a rail car that were struck by a second locomotive at the Marshall County coal mine.

The state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training suspended the miner’s certificate of the second locomotive driver, William Coulson, after a drug test found he’d taken a prescription pain medication without a prescription before the accident. The agency sought to have Coulson’s certificate revoked permanently.

In both cases, it was overruled by the state Coal Mine Safety Board of Appeals. The panel declined to revoke Coulson and overturned the suspension on procedural grounds, a ruling later upheld by Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr.

The Supreme Court ruled that Zakaib and the board got it wrong. The panel exceeded its powers by imposing procedures that aren’t part of state law, the court said in a decision written by Justice Margaret Workman.

The court also ruled that the appeals board erred by saying the state hadn’t done enough to prove Coulson was impaired at the time of the wreck. The high court sent the case back to the appeals board to consider new punishment for Coulson.

Elaine Skorich, an assistant attorney general, praised the ruling.

“They said, ‘Yes, we have that authority,” Skorich said.

Coulson no longer works as a miner due to a back injury, but would be eligible to do so because his certificate was suspended, not revoked, Skorich said.

“This guy killed someone and he got 90 days,” she said. “We don’t want him to get better and go back to work in a mine.”

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