Four miners who were trapped and injured two years ago during a rock burst at the Lucky Friday Mine are suing Hecla Mining Co., alleging that mine mangers knowingly sent them to work in unsafe conditions.
On Dec. 14, 2011, Ronnel E. Barrett, Gregg Hammerberg, Eric J. Tester and Matthew Williams were part of a team of seven miners sent to repair damage from an earlier rock burst when another occurred, according to the lawsuit. The sudden, violent failure of a supporting rock pillar trapped them 5,900 feet below the surface.
The four miners are seeking more than $1 million, to be proven at a jury trial, for injuries, medical treatment and lost wages.
In addition to Hecla, the lawsuit filed Tuesday in 1st District Court names Jeff Jordan, the Lucky Friday’s mine manager; Doug Bayer, mine superintendent; and Scott Hogamier, the safety foreman.
Mike Westerlund, Hecla’s vice president of investor relations, said he hadn’t seen the suit and couldn’t comment.
The lawsuit accused Hecla and its managers of ignoring escalating incidents of rock bursts at the underground silver mine in Mullan, Idaho.
The Lucky Friday experienced a string of rock bursts starting in the latter half of 2010, the lawsuit said. “It was only because no miners were working in these areas during all of these incidents that there were no deaths,” the suit says.
In April 2011, Larry “Pete” Marek, a miner with 20 years of experience, was killed in a rock fall at the Lucky Friday. Rescue crews worked around the clock to remove debris, reaching Marek’s body nine days later.
Nov. 16, 2011, another rock burst occurred in the same area. According to the suit, Hecla’s managers knew from two consultants’ reports that the area remained unsafe, but lied to workers who were sent to install a steel liner to stabilize the rock.
Quoting the consultants’ reports, the lawsuit said rock pressure was continuing to build up from mining activity below that area; that the supporting pillar was “still under stress”; and that further rock bursts in the area were likely, the suit says.
However, the miners were told that the pillar was safe to work around, the suit says. They were specifically told that a consultant said another rock burst wouldn’t occur for five years and that the pillar was continuously monitored for increased rock pressure, according to the suit.
Hecla had stopped monitoring the pillar and was violating an order from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to cease mining operations until the repairs were done, the suit says.
Mine managers “knew that had the true condition of the pillar and the lack of monitoring been disclosed, the (miners) would not have agreed to perform further work within the pillar,” the suit says.