Six U.S. insurance companies and Lloyd’s of London are suing for reimbursement of millions of dollars for equipment abandoned inside a Utah mine that collapsed in 2007, killing six miners and three rescuers.
The suit was filed in Utah’s 3rd District Court by Intermountain Power Agency’s insurers against the mine operator, Pepper Pike, Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., its Utah affiliates and a Colorado engineering company.
The IPA is half-owner of the Crandall Canyon mine but left the operations to its partner Murray Energy, which was blamed by federal regulators for the biggest collapse in U.S. mining history.
Within seconds on Aug. 6, 2007, a level section of the mine as large as 63 football fields collapsed, bringing down hundreds of coal pillars and trapping six men who are still entombed nearly half a mile underground. Ten days later, another collapse killed two rescuers and a federal inspector. Six others on the rescue team were left grievously injured.
The lawsuit contains no dollar figures or new allegations, but blames Murray Energy for the disaster in central Utah by repeating the findings of an investigation by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The suit demands that Murray Energy pay for abandoned equipment left inside the shuttered mine.
Murray Energy released a statement to The Associated Press calling the insurers’ claims “completely baseless” and adding, “The company will vigorously defend against the lawsuit.”
The insurers say they reimbursed IPA for the lost equipment and want their money back. The lawsuit provides no accounting of the equipment, but a lawyer involved in the disaster litigation said the equipment was worth millions of dollars.
The lawsuit over Crandall Canyon does not deal with payments Murray Energy and its insurers made last year to family members of the dead miners or rescuers. Terms of the settlement were never disclosed, but lawyers on both sides have said it exceeded the more than $20 million paid to families of 27 victims of a 1984 fire at the closed Wilberg mine in the same Utah coal district.
Federal prosecutors are still looking at possible criminal charges for the retreat mining operations that led to the Crandall Canyon disaster. MSHA cited Murray Energy affiliate GenWal Resources Inc. with its highest standard of negligence. Engineers Agapito Associates Inc. of Grand Junction, Colo., was cited for “reckless disregard.” The agency’s fines totaled $1.8 million, the largest ever assessed for a U.S. coal mining operation.
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