The mining company faulted by federal officials for a cave-in that killed six miners last year is fighting a workers compensation claim filed by the family of one of the victims.
With his paycheck, coal miner Juan Carlos Payan was supporting his disabled father, his mother and two young sisters in Mexico, according to his family.
The parents want full benefits of about $2,400 a month for six years a total of $172,800. That's five times the amount offered by Genwal Resources Inc., a subsidiary of Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., and Rockwood Casualty Insurance Co.
The companies argued that Payan had two other siblings working in Utah to help support the family and that he wasn't the sole benefactor.
An administrative law judge for the Utah Labor Commission presided over a hearing on the issue Wednesday. Aurora Holley said her decision is two or three months away.
Payan, 22, was one of six miners entombed in the Crandall Canyon mine by a collapse on Aug. 6, 2007, that was so extensive it flattened an area half a mile underground, according to satellite radar images. Three other people died in a later collapse during a failed attempt to dig the miners out.
Families of all eight of the other victims are receiving workers compensation, according to Utah officials.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration has found that coal was mined too aggressively from Crandall Canyon, and that Genwal and engineering consultant Agapito Associates Inc. "demonstrated reckless disregard for safety" by making critical miscalculations and failing to report early warning signs. MSHA fined Genwal $1.34 million and Agapito $220,000, the largest fines ever imposed on a U.S. coal mining operation.
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether criminal charges are warranted. Mine company officials have defended their practices; Murray Energy chief Bob Murray has said an earthquake rather than mining practices caused the cave-in, but federal officials and others dispute that.
Wednesday's hearing established that Payan started working in Utah coal mines before he turned 16, first for the Co-op mine. He left for nearby Crandall Canyon in 2004 with a brother, Luis, after a strike over pay and working conditions at the Co-op mine.
Bret Gardner, an attorney for the mining and insurance companies, said banking records and Western Union transfers show that the Payan brothers and a married sister, Miriam Castro, sent $268,000 to their parents in Mexico over several years.
Gardner said only $90,000 of the total came from Juan Carlos Payan.
But Luis Payan testified that much of the $268,000 was money he wired to Mexico for a home and property for himself, not to support the family.
His sister also testified that she often wired Juan Carlos Payan's entire paycheck to Mexico. He was living with Miriam Castro's family in a mobile home in Huntington, Utah.
The family's attorney, Ed Havas, argued that no records or witnesses can deny the family's contention that Juan Carlos Payan alone was supporting his parents and young sisters in Mexico.