January 11, 2014 in Idaho

Suing miners stay at Lucky Friday after accident

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Four Lucky Friday miners who were trapped in a 2011 rock burst, and who accuse Hecla Mining Co.’s managers in a recent lawsuit of lying to them about dangerous conditions, are still working at the mine.

“They’re career miners, so they really don’t have a lot of options,” said their attorney, Eric Rossman.

The men went back to work with limitations from physical and psychological trauma related to the rock burst on Dec. 14, 2011, he said.

“To a large extent these people are dependent on Hecla,” Rossman said. “That made it more difficult for them to proceed with this case. It’s just a situation where they felt it was the most appropriate thing to do.”

A Hecla spokesman declined to comment.

Ronnel E. Barrett, Gregg Hammerberg, Eric J. Tester and Matthew Williams are seeking more than $1 million for injuries, medical bills and lost wages related to the sudden, violent failure of a supporting rock pillar at the mine near Mullan, Idaho.

The lawsuit, filed in December, says the men were sent to install a steel liner for ground support in an area where a rock burst had occurred a month earlier. Mine managers knew from a consultant’s report that the area was at risk for another rock burst, but they didn’t monitor the supporting pillar for stress and had told the miners the area was safe, according to court documents.

Rossman is also an attorney for an ongoing shareholder lawsuit, which was filed last January. That suit said that Hecla’s management and board of directors knew or should have known about unsafe working conditions at the Lucky Friday that triggered a federal inspection.

As a result of the inspection, the Lucky Friday was shut down for a year while the main shaft was cleaned. The shutdown coincided with high silver prices, costing Hecla tens of millions of dollars. The Lucky Friday reopened early last year.

Hecla’s attorneys said in court documents that the lawsuit is similar to three shareholder suits that were dismissed, and that it should be as well.

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