Friday, September 14, 2007

State Supreme Court upholds verdict against coal company

State Supreme Court upholds verdict against coal company
By Tom SearlsStaff writer
The state Supreme Court upheld a Mingo Circuit Court ruling Wednesday ordering a coal company to provide potable water to people whose water supply has been contaminated.

Residents of four Mingo County communities said Rawl Sales & Processing Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co., had destroyed their water quality. The Mingo County court had ordered the company to provide emergency temporary drinking water to people whose water supply has been contaminated.

Instead, Rawl appealed the order to the state Supreme Court, where justices unanimously rejected their arguments and declined to hear the case Wednesday. The original 2006 circuit court order said the firm should provide bottled water each week to 194 people in the Lick Creek, Rawl, Merrimac and Sprigg areas. After the company refused, residents received water from the Mingo County Office of Emergency Services.

The order is related to litigation accusing Rawl of contaminating wells with coal slurry. Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury noted it would be up to a jury to decide if the firm is responsible for polluting the water system, but issued the order because a preponderance of “evidence tends to implicate the defendant.”

Rawl’s appeal maintained that most of the plaintiffs hadn’t proved they live near contaminated water.

But while the Supreme Court upheld the circuit court ruling, it comes a little late. Using federal Abandoned Mine Lands money, water lines from the city of Williamson have already been extended to the residents.

The circuit court held the order in abeyance only until potable water was available to the residents.

About 450 plaintiffs have sued Massey and Rawl over the alleged contamination since September 2004, according to a Massey quarterly report to the U.S.

Securities and Exchange Commission. Massey said in the filing that its insurance should cover the damages.

Attorneys for both sides could not be reached for comment Wednesday.