2009-03-12 / Local & State

Quecreek Miners Settle Lawsuit

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Eight miners trapped underground for more than three days in 2002 have settled lawsuits against the mine's operator and an engineering firm that drew the maps they were using when they drilled into a water-filled abandoned mine, a newspaper reported.

Nine miners at PBS Coal's Quecreek Mine in Somerset, became trapped in a flooded tunnel on July 24, 2002; they dug into the flooded mine while relying on outdated maps that showed it was 300 feet away. They were pulled from the ground in a dramatic rescue 77 hours later, after several of them had scrawled emotional goodbye notes to loved ones.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Sunday that eight of the trapped miners settled lawsuits against Quecreek Mine, the mine operator, PBS Coals, and the engineering firm that certified the maps. Under the terms of the settlement signed Friday, the monetary award to the miners remains confidential and the companies will not admit to any negligence.

"The miners are very happy that this matter is over. It's been a long, difficult fight for them to get justice,'' their attorney, Howard Messer, told the newspaper. "They're very happy with the results.''

Attorneys representing Quecreek and PBS Coals did not return messages left by the Tribune Review; Musser Engineering officers declined to comment to the newspaper.

A message left with PBS Coals by The Associated Press was not immediately returned Sunday; there was no answer at a telephone listing for Musser Engineering.

A second group of miners who made it to safety also sued the companies and will share in the settlement.

"They're glad to put this long nightmare behind them,'' said attorney Sayde Ladov, who represented several of those miners.

The eight trapped miners who sued in 2003 are Randy Fogle, Dennis Hall, Blaine Mayhugh, Robert Pugh, Ronald Hileman, John Phillippi, John Unger and Tom Foy; the ninth trapped miner, Mark Popernack, did not sue.

In November, a judge issued PBS Coals and Musser Engineering fines of $55,000 each, saying they played "Russian roulette'' with the lives of the miners. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration had suggested fines of $5,000 each.

The companies are appealing the fines.

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