Don Blankenship, former chief of one of the biggest coal companies in the world, was convicted of misdemeanor conspiracy in early December. After a two-month trial, the jury found Blankenship guilty of willfully violating federal mine safety standards.
The Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster of 2010
To talk about the trial of Don Blankenship, you have to go back to 2010, when a Massey Energy coal mine in West Virginia exploded. 29 miners lost their lives. Investigators later held Massey Energy responsible for the disaster, citing multiple failures to meet basic safety standards, including poor mine ventilation.
‘He is guilty, my friends’
WCHS News quotes Judy Jones Peterson, the sister of one of the miners who lost his life: “He is guilty, my friends,” Peterson said, referring to Blankenship. “And he is not guilty of just being a liar, cheat and a fraud. He is guilty of the reckless disregard of human life.” And this gets to the heart of what makes the trial of Don Blankenship so unusual.
What makes this case so unusual is criminal charges.
If you’re running a company and you’re grossly negligent – like when you fail to meet basic safety standards and your employees are killed – you would typically only face a civil lawsuit. Rarely does such a thing rise to the level of criminal culpability, even where you knowingly expose an employee to an unsafe condition.
Our opinion: deliberate intent = criminal intent.
In these types of personal injury or wrongful death cases, you must prove that the person deliberately or knowingly exposed the employee to the unsafe condition. It seems as though this begs the question: Why wouldn’t more of these types of civil cases also become criminal cases, as in the trial of Don Blankenship? In cases where 29 miners lose their lives at the hands of a corporation that chooses profit over safety, they very well should be.