Feds: Civil Suits Unaffected by Mine Investigation

September 10, 2008

Federal officials say a criminal investigation of the Crandall Canyon, Utah, mine disaster doesn’t preclude civil suits against those associated with the mine.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration asked the U.S. Attorney for Utah to conduct a criminal investigation of the mine collapse in 2007.

After the news, questions arose about whether miners’ families could still pursue civil claims in the case.

Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman, says her office’s request applied only to “pending administrative enforcement action in which MSHA is seeking to obtain civil monetary penalties against the business organizations associated with the mine.”

It would not, she added, “apply to civil court proceedings brought by the victims or their families.”

Three civil suits have been filed in the wake of the disaster, which killed six miners and three rescuers in summer 2007.

The latest suit was by the widow and grown children of MSHA inspector Gary Jensen, who died Aug. 16, 2007 during a rescue attempt.

Two other lawsuits were filed on behalf of dead and injured miners and their families.

All of the suits list as defendants the mine’s co-owners and operators: Murray Energy Corp.; its Utah subsidiaries, Utah- American Energy Inc., Andalex Resources Inc. and Genwal Resources Inc.; and Intermountain Power Agency and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – along with mining consultant Agapito Associates Inc.

A spokeswoman for Murray Energy Corp. declined comment.

The referral for a criminal investigation was based on findings by MSHA released July 24. The operator of the mine was fined $1.34 million for alleged safety violations contributing to the disaster. Agapito was fined an additional $220,000 for faulty analysis of the mine’s design.

The Labor Department earlier this week said the U.S. Attorney’s office had asked for a delay in the civil suits. Lawyers representing the families objected.

Tolman’s office then clarified, saying a criminal investigation wouldn’t preclude the civil cases.

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