Mining company, Massey Energy Co., offered $35 million to settle a 7-year-old lawsuit with hundreds of southern West Virginia residents who said the miner poisoned their drinking supplies with coal slurry.
The settlement said the $35 million is in addition to the $5 million Massey and its subsidiary, Rawl Sales & Processing, had previously agreed to put into a medical monitoring fund.
Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey earlier this year. Massey was the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine where 29 men died in a blast last year that was the deadliest U.S. coal accident since 1970.
It’s unclear exactly how much money each plaintiff will receive because the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, doesn’t say how much their lawyers are seeking for fees and expenses. Attorneys refused to comment, citing a gag order imposed on the settlement.
If they request and get the customary 30 percent, that could lower the payoffs to $24 million, or about $50,000 apiece.
A hearing on the settlement and its distribution, including legal fees, is set for Sept. 29 at the Kanawha County Courthouse in Charleston.
The letter, dated Aug. 5, tells recipients the terms are for plaintiffs’ knowledge only.
“Never forget that we stood and fought where others feared to tread, and you, the people of Rawl, Lick Creek, Merrimac and Sprigg, focused the world’s attention on the true human cost of outlaw mining practices,” said the letter, signed by attorney Kevin Thompson.
The two sides reached the settlement July 27, after a third attempt by two judges serving on the state’s Mass Litigation Panel. Three other judges had been simultaneously preparing to begin a series of trials on Aug. 1.
Initially, some 700 people sued Massey, claiming it contaminated their aquifer and wells by pumping 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry into worked-out underground mines between 1978 and 1987.
Slurry is when the miner washes the coal to help it burn more cleanly. Residents said the slurry seeped out of the old mine workings and into their aquifer, turning their well water varying shades of red, brown and black, and causing ailments ranging from learning disabilities to cancer.
The letter also tells the plaintiffs that besides the medical monitoring program, they are eligible for a health benefits program. The details of how that will work are still under negotiation.