Term Paper: Massey Energy Company's Liability

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Massey Energy Co.'s Liability

Over the last several decades a change has occurred in the public sector, where less emphasis has been placed on effectively regulating different industries. Coal mining is no exception, as the industry has seen a shift with a greater emphasis placed on allowing the various mines to function with less scrutiny. This has caused the focus to be placed on increasing the overall bottom line at all costs, even if it means that the company is knowingly violating the law. A good example of this can be seen with the recent explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, in West Virginia, owned by Massey Energy. Where, 29 people died in one of the worst coal mining accidents in decades. What makes this situation so troubling; is that Massey Energy had 515 violations for safety from federal regulators in 2009 and 124 violations this year. ("Obama Blames Owner for West Virginia Mine Disaster," 2010) This is significant because it underscores a trend that is occurring with the company, where they are knowingly violating the directives of federal regulators and putting their profits ahead of everything else. As a result, the company should face severe liabilities in the form of negligence, for their conduct leading up to the accident at the Upper Big Branch Mine. To prove this you would have to show: that the company violated the standard of negligence, their past conduct to support this claim and how the company attempted to prevent the enforcement of different safety regulations. Together, these various elements will show how Massey Energy is negligible under the law for the tragedy that occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine.

The Standard of Negligence

To prove that Massey Energy is guilty of negligence requires examining the four different legal preconditions that must be established under the law. This would include the following elements: the duty to use care, injury, cause and a breach of responsibility / duty. The duty to use care is when: you must establish that the party who is negligent was responsible to the other party / parties in some way. (Kent, 1993) in this particular case, Massey Energy would have a responsibility to use care when examining matters surrounding the safety of the mine. This is because they were citied 515 times last year and no action was taken by the company, which means it is reasonable to imply that they clearly breached this precondition. ("Obama Blames Owner for West Virginia Mine Disaster," 2010)

Injury is when you must show that an actual loss or damage occurred because of these actions. (Kent, 1993) in the case of the Upper Big Branch Mine, this is obvious because 29 people died from the lack of actions undertaken by the company. ("Obama Blames Owner for West Virginia Mine Disaster," 2010)

Cause is when you are showing that there is a direct link between the actions or lack of actions and the damages that occurred. (Kent, 1993) in the case of Massey Energy, this can easily be demonstrated by the repeated violations that the company received from regulators over the last two years. Where, the inability of the mine to fix the repeated safety violations would help contribute to the accident. ("Obama Blames Owner for West Virginia Mine Disaster," 2010)

Breach of responsibility / duty is when one party failed to exercise the proper amount of care pertaining to the actions they were engaged in. Under this basic legal principal, you must use the reasonably prudent person's doctrine. This is where you are asking if the defendant acted in a responsible manner under the circumstances. (Kent, 1993) in the case of Massey Energy, they did not do this because they never fixed, much less addressed the different safety violations. ("Obama Blames Owner for West Virginia Mine Disaster," 2010)

A side from the issue of negligence, Massey was also in violation of the law by allowing the Upper Big Branch Mine to continue running despite the obvious safety concerns. The two different acts that the company was in violation of were: the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act along with the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act. Under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, the company continued to ignore the safety directives of federal officials. This is a violation of the act, by not ensuring that high quality safety standards were in place at all times and by not fixing any violations. ("History of Mine Safety and Health Legislation," 2010) the company violated the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act by not having any kind of emergency response plan in place. What all of this shows; is that Massey Energy has continually violated the law despite the fact that they were cited by federal officials 515 times. ("Obama Blames Owner for West Virginia Mine Disaster," 2010) as a result, one can easily establish that the company is negligent for the accident that occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine.

Past Conduct of Massey Energy

To make the case against Massey Energy more damaging, the lawyers for the plaintiffs would need to examine the past track record of the company. Where, they will find that they have a history of such violations and incidents going back several years. What happened was Massey has been facing a number of different law suits and charges relating to mine safety going back as far as 1998. Where, the Upper Big Branch Mine was involved in three deaths because of a lack of safety procedures. At other mines the company owns, such as the Arcoma Alma Mine, there was fire in 2006. This is significant because in the aftermath of the fire, federal authorities found that the mine had: a broken fire alarm, the fire hoses were not accessible to running water and a broken sprinkler. These different violations were so severe that the company was charged and pled guilty to 10 different counts, agreeing to pay $4.2 million in damages / fines. Then, when you move forward in time beyond the disaster at the Acroma Alma Mine, Massey continued to engage in irresponsible behavior. Evidence of this can be seen at the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 200 violations were listed as significant and substantial. While, 50 of the violations were marked as an unwarrantable failure to comply (this is the most serious violation issued). (Paulson, 2010) to make matters even worse, the company purchased Workers Compensation Insurance for the workers of the Upper Big Branch Mine, one month before the accident occurred. This is troubling because prior to the purchase of Workers Comp, the company was known for aggressively fighting any kind of Workers Compensation claims. Reading between the lines, one could infer that the management at Massey knew there was a problem. (Lindorf, 2010) Instead of attempting to fix the obvious safety issues, they chose to purchase Workers Compensation, indicating that they knew something was wrong. What all the above incidents show is that Massey Energy was not concerned about the safety of their miners. If the company was serious about reducing the number of accidents and fatalities; they would have engaged in a major program to improve safety, after pleading guilty to 10 counts of criminal wrongdoing. (Paulson, 2010) Instead, they felt that they could continue to place the importance of their overall bottom line ahead of everything else. This inability to respond to the obvious violations of the law consistently, underscores the fact that the company is negligent for the actions that occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine.

How Massey Energy tried to prevent the Enforcement of different Safety Regulations

To effectively tie up federal regulators Massey engaged in a legal procedure to slow any kind of possible legal actions, which is: appealing the various citations. What happens is: when the company would be cited for a serious violation that could potentially close the mine, they would appeal the citation. During the process of appealing, the mine could remain open and the regulators were powerless to act. Last year of the 50 serious violations that Massey received for the Upper Big Branch Mine, they appealed 37 of them. This includes two violations from federal officials on coal dust accumulating at various areas throughout the mine, one month before the accident. (Gardiner, 2010) What all of this shows, is that despite the obvious infractions that were occurring, the company would aggressively fight the most serious violations by appealing them. This in itself; is the company using various legal tactics to prevent them from following the provisions of the law. Therefore, one could effectively argue that Massey Energy is liable for negligence, based upon the fact that they tried to intentionally delay any kind of possible actions for knowingly violating the law.

Clearly, Massey Energy willfully violated the law on numerous occasions at the Upper Big Branch Mine. These actions resulted in the deaths of 29 miners because the company refused to comply with the different safety provisions. Then, when you… [END OF PREVIEW]

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