Relatives of men killed or hurt in the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster intend to sue two power companies for allegedly permitting dangerous working conditions and risky mining practices.
Salt Lake attorney Ed Havas said the families have sent notice that they will sue the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Intermountain Power Agency in Utah. Intermountain Power owns half of Crandall Canyon Mine and the Los Angeles power department is one of its co-managers.
Laws in both states require anyone suing a government agency to give notice that a lawsuit is pending.
California law gives the Los Angeles department 45 days to respond; Utah law gives the power agency 60 days to respond. After that, the suit can be filed and it likely will be in one of Utah's state district courts, Havas said.
Six men died in the Emery County mine disaster on Aug. 6 following the collapse of part of the mine, and three rescuers died Aug. 16. The mine is no longer in operation.
"We are saying that they (the government entities) were aware of hazardous conditions and mining practices that were so dangerous and they didn't do anything to stop it or protect the people who were at risk," Havas said.
The suit currently names 24 relatives of miners who were killed and two people who were injured. Not all miners affected by the disaster are taking part in this proposed lawsuit. The families of miner Dale Black and inspector Gary Jensen have other legal counsel, according to Havas.
Havas said his clients also plan to sue mine owner Murray Energy Corp. and other private organizations, but since these are not government-related bodies, they do not require advance notice.
The lawsuit will claim essentially that the private entities created mining plans and engaged in practices that were unreasonably dangerous and created a significant risk that something like this would happen, Havas said.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages. In the case of the deaths, the lawsuit will ask for such standard claims as compensation for loss of a family's loved one, the loss of that relationship and the loss of earnings, in addition to compensation for the "pre-death suffering of the poor guys who got stuck in there."
For the injured miners, Havas the suit will seek compensation for the economic losses that stemmed from their injuries.
Havas said his clients are dealing with the aftermath of mining catastrophe as best they can.
"They're really strong, wonderful people and they're very resilient. They have each other and their families and the community supporting them, but it's been very tough," he said. "It's still recent. They just went through the first holiday season after the deaths of their loved ones and that's always very difficult."
Officials at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said they could not comment on the lawsuit directly Wednesday.
"Our hearts go out to the families," the utility's general manager and CEO David Nahia said through a spokesman. "It's a very tragic loss and our sympathies continue to be with them."No one was available for comment late Wednesday at Intermountain Power Agency.
Contributing: Aaron Falk