Four lawsuits were filed this week against coal mine owner Massey Energy and more are expected in the weeks before the April 5 anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion.
Three of the suits claim the Appalachian coal mine giant acted with reckless disregard for the safety of the 29 coal miners killed in the blast. The lawsuits were filed by the families of Carl Acord, Joe Marcum and Adam Morgan, who all lost their lives in the nation's worst mine accident in 40 years.
A fourth lawsuit was filed by Stanley Stewart, an Upper Big Branch miner who was on his way into the mine when he was hit by the concussive force of the explosion. Stewart survived and rushed in to help.
The lawsuits were filed in circuit court in Boone County, W.Va., where two earlier wrongful death suits were filed.
"Stewart suffered severe physical and psychological injuries," court documents claim" as a result of "the willful, wanton and recklessly unsafe manner in which the defendants operated the Upper Big Branch Mine."
Massey Energy and its subsidiary companies and former CEO Don Blankenship are named as defendants. Some of the lawsuits also name members of the Massey Board of Directors.
Massey officials are also accused of tampering with evidence. Three of the lawsuits refer to an incident documented by NPR in which executives Jason Whitehead and Chris Blanchard spent several hours and traveled nine miles unsupervised in the mine immediately following the blast. Massey has said the two were trying to rescue victims but they were not part of any organized rescue effort.
The suits also refer to a recent federal criminal indictment accusing a Massey security director of lying to investigators and disposing of evidence.
In response to a request for comment, Massey Vice President and General Counsel Shane Harvey told NPR, "We will respond in court at the appropriate time." A Massey spokesman has also said the company is cooperating with federal investigators.
The families of seven victims have accepted unspecified cash settlements, Massey has said. NPR has reported settlement offers of at least three million for each family.