Coal has been mined in the Bluegrass State for over two centuries, with the first known commercial production taking place in 1790 in Lee County. Since then coal mining has been a way of life for generations and the source of income for millions of Kentuckians over the years.

While coal plays a less significant role in the state’s economy than it used to, in mid-2014 there still were an estimated 11,715 people employed in the coal industry statewide. And Pike County, home of the Johnson Law Firm, is the top coal-producing county in Kentucky.

Coal Mining Accident Law FirmAt the Billy Johnson firm, we understand the importance of coal mining in Eastern Kentucky. We also understand, however, that injured coal miners aren’t able to provide for their families and maintain a decent standard of living. We fight for the rights of families who have lost a loved one in a mine disaster and for workers injured in a mine accident, by dangerous working conditions, or by defective equipment.

Call 606-433-0682 toll free or use our online form to schedule a meeting where we can discuss your coal mine accident and what the Johnson Law Firm can do to help you now.

Eastern Kentucky Coal Industry

The eastern region of Kentucky contains a number of expanses in which there are coal deposits. Known as coalfields, these areas have been given the names Elkhorn, Paintsville, Thacker, Kenova, Harlan, and Hazard. Companies both large and small use underground or surface mining techniques to remove millions of tons of coal. This natural resource is used primarily to generate electricity.

Residents of Eastern Kentucky are familiar with the names of many companies in the coal industry: Blue Diamond, James River, Patriot, Alpha Natural Resources, Arch, Blackhawk Mining, Jamieson, Nally & Hamilton, Peabody Energy, Elkhorn, Teco, and many, many others.

At the Johnson Law Firm, we’ve seen numerous coal operators come and go. Litigation can be complicated by the mergers and buy-outs common in the industry, and smaller companies often claim bankruptcy in order to avoid claims. When you allow the Johnson Law Firm to pursue justice for you, you are getting a depth of knowledge of the area and its commerce that enhances our success. Put this homegrown experience to work for you.

Mine accidents in the news

Fortunately, mine disasters which claim national and even worldwide attention are less common than they once were. Some of the worst disasters in coal mining history claimed hundreds of lives, but research, technology and safety programs have substantially reduced mass casualties. The worst year in the U.S. was 1907, when 3,242 men lost their lives in coal mine tragedies. Compare that to the year 2009, when there were 18 coal mine fatalities.

coal-train accidentCoal mining is a hazardous occupation, however, and in the last five years Kentucky coalfields have been the site of numerous injuries and even some deaths. In both 2013 and 2014, there were 2 mining fatalities; in 2012, there were 4; 8 Kentucky miners lost their lives in 2011; and 7 died while mining coal in 2010.

Many residents of Eastern Kentucky remember some of the most notorious coal mine disasters of recent history, or at least they’ve heard tell of them.

  • On May 20, 2006, a methane explosion rocked Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan Co., KY. Two miners were immediately killed by the explosion and three others succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning with smoke and soot inhalation. An investigation found that the mine operator had improperly constructed a seal and failed to adequately train miners in escape routes and the use of breathing apparatus.
  • On January 20, 1982, a coal dust explosion at RFH Coal Co. No. 1 in Floyd County killed seven miners.
  • On December 7, 1981, the Adkins Coal Co. No. 11 in Knott County was the site of a coal dust explosion that killed eight.
  • In March of 1976, there were two gas and coal dust explosions at the Scotia Coal Company mine in Letcher County, KY, killing a total of 26 miners. The investigation concluded the dual disaster resulted from inadequate ventilation and the use of electric equipment which had not been maintained in compliance with regulations, creating arcing in an area where methane had accumulated.
  • On December 30, 1970, 38 miners were killed at the Finley Coal No. 15 and 16 mine in Leslie County’s Hyden community. The explosion killed 33 and 5 others died from asphyxiation or carbon monoxide poisoning. This disaster was caused by the use of nonpermissible explosives or permissible explosives used in the wrong manner, igniting coal dust.

Common injuries for coal miners

According to data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), coal miners suffer injuries in many accidents that don’t involve explosions or newsmaking disasters.

These are the types of non-fatal injuries to underground miners from 2008-2012 which were severe enough that they had to miss work:,/p>

  • 30.8% of the non-fatal injuries were suffered in tasks relating to handling material — duties such as loading and unloading supplies, machine repair, moving power cables, moving roof bolt supplies, handling and shoveling coal and waste rock, and moving conveyor belt parts.
  • 18.8% of the non-fatal injuries were slips or falls.
  • 15.5% were caused by caving rock or ore.
  • 11.4% of the injuries were sustained while using machinery, such as a continuous mining machine, conveyor belt, ram car, longwall miner, or mantrip.
  • 11.1% were powered haulage accidents — that is, during the use of motors and rail cars, conveyors, shuttle cars, haulage trucks, or front-end loaders, among others.
  • 5.8% of the injuries resulted from the use of hand tools, like picks, wedges, malls, shovels, boring machines, scrapers, prickers, and stemmers.

Lost-time injuries for surface miners during the same time period were, for the most part, similarly caused, but at different rates:

  • 36.9% of surface mining injuries were due to slips or falls, attributed to improperly mounting or dismounting equipment, use of walkways and steps, poor traction of footwear, and carelessness.
  • 26.9% were suffered while handling materials.
  • 11.9% of the injuries involved powered haulage, such as bulldozers, bucket excavators, and large trucks.
  • 10.1% of injuries occurred while using machinery, such as drills, hydraulic shovels, draglines, mass excavators, front-end loaders, and scrapers.
  • 4.8% of surface mining injuries involved the use of hand tools like welding equipment, hammers, wrenches, pliers, calipers, screwdrivers, torque wrenches, and air hammers.

Diseases related to coal mining

Sudden disasters and accidents aren’t the only things that can harm Eastern Kentucky coal miners. Several respiratory diseases have been found to be caused by breathing in dust and particles from coal and the rocks housing the seams.

A new rule from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) gives coal miners the right to receive free periodic chest X-rays and lung function tests. Miners with evidence of black lung on their chest X-rays are informed as to how to pursue their right to work with reduced dust exposure through the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis is the scarring of lung tissue caused by inhalation of mineral dusts. Also known as “black lung,” it causes the lungs to harden and makes breathing difficult. Tens of thousands of coal miners have perished from black lung disease, and the incidence of the disease in central Appalachia, including Kentucky, has begun to skyrocket.

Silicosis is a disease caused by inhaling crystalline silica from rocks in coal mines and is especially threatening to roof bolters in underground mines and drillers in surface mines.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is another respiratory ailment common to coal miners and includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Dangerous products endanger coal miners

As if the hazards of extracting coal from the earth aren’t enough, miners can be harmed when the equipment they use and the personal safety protection they rely on turns out to be dangerously designed or has a defect caused in the manufacturing process. In this instance, the Johnson Law Firm will seek compensation from the company which drew up the plans for or actually produced the faulty item. We know that not all coal mining injuries are the fault of the coal mine operator, and we use our experience and resources to seek compensation from the actual source of the danger.

Pride in our region and our work

Coal Mine Injury LawyerWe at the Johnson Law Firm are proud to be from the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky, and we’re proud of the hardworking men and women who make their living bringing coal to the market. If you or your loved one has been injured in a coal mine accident in Floyd County, Pike County, Martin County, Letcher County, Harlan County, or any one of the counties of the Eastern Kentucky coalfield, let Billy Johnson and his team use their knowledge of mining, workers’ compensation, and federal agency funds to achieve justice for you and economic stability for your family.

Contact us today for a free review of your case by calling 606-433-0682 or by filling out this form.