Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Miners settle, avoid long trial

Miners settle, avoid long trial...

Miners settle, avoid long trial

By Stephanie Taylor Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 27, 2010 at 10:34 p.m.
TUSCALOOSA | More than 1,000 miners who filed suit against several companies have reached a settlement, avoiding a jury trial that could have lasted up to four months.

The Case
It was originally filed in 2001 by 
1,394 miners and former miners 
who claimed they were exposed to 
the dangerous chemical isocyanate.
The terms of the settlement are confidential and will not be made public.
The settlement concludes the case originally filed in 2001 by 1,394 miners and former miners who claimed they were exposed to the dangerous chemical isocyanate, which is found in products used to strengthen mine walls and ceilings.
There were around a dozen defendants originally, from product manufacturers and owners of mines where the chemical was used. Jim Walter Resources Inc., which operates mines in Tuscaloosa County, was one of the original defendants. 
Yellow ribbons wave at Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in 2003 in remembrance of the 13 miners killed on Sept. 23, 2001. The miners who died on Sept. 23, 2001, were: Gaston E. Adams Jr., Raymond F. Ashworth, Nelson Banks Jr., David L. Blevins, Clarence H. Boyd, Wendell R. Johnson, John W. Knox, Dennis R. Mobley, Charles J. Nail, Sammy Joe Riggs, Charles E. Smith, Joseph P. Sorah and Terry M. Stewart.
Dow Chemical Co. and Flexible Products Co. reached a settlement with the plaintiffs last week, the last two companies to reach an agreement.
The settlement came after an unusually long jury selection process. Attorneys took four weeks to narrow a pool of hundreds of potential jurors to a 16-person jury.
To accommodate the large number of people, jury selection took place in the Bama Theater near the courthouse.
Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge John England told the jury Monday morning that the case had been settled and was concluded.
“I have not been a part of a case wherein a citizen served on a jury for four weeks and not heard one minute of testimony,” he told the jurors. “You’ve done something
extraordinarily unique in the state of Alabama.”
England presided over the jury selection, which involved days of questioning the pool and showing slides of all 1,394 plaintiffs to establish whether anyone knew the miners involved. 

“We were totally shocked, we didn’t see that coming,” juror Peggy Baggett said as she left the courthouse at 10 a.m. “We came in this morning ready to hear testimony.”
Baggett and other jurors had expected the trial to last three to four months and had been told little about the case.
Most of the plaintiffs claimed that they suffered from occupational asthma caused by isocyanate exposure. Isocyanate is combined with polyurethane to create a foam. Exposure to products containing the chemical can irritate mucous membranes of the eyes, gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Direct contact can cause skin inflammation and exposure can make people more prone to severe asthma attacks. Death from severe asthma attacks in some people exposed to isocyanates has been reported, according to the CDC.
Three cases were originally filed in the Bessemer division of Jefferson County Circuit Court, but were later consolidated and moved to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court in 2007.
The suit claimed that the companies violated the Hazard Communication Standard contained in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, guidelines set by the American National Standards Institute and the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.
The miners also claimed that the defendants committed fraud by willfully misrepresenting, concealing or suppressing the truth about the dangers of the product, that the companies engaged in a civil conspiracy and destroyed data that demonstrated the effects of exposure to the chemical. 

They sought compensatory and punitive damages for physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, loss of income, inability to work, permanent injuries and disabilities and aggravation of pre-existing conditions that the miners allegedly suffered as a result of using the substance.
Reach Stephanie Taylor at
news.com or 205-722-0210.


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