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Last year, officials told the world that all 29 miners killed by the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia died instantaneously.
A lawsuit filed last week by a miner's widow contends otherwise, alleging that seven of the victims remained alive as Massey executives refused them aid.
During the Massey mine blast, eight men were in a shuttle heading towards the mine. The lawsuit states that one of these men, after strapping on his own self-rescuer, tried to do the same for his colleagues, who he testified were breathing and moaning.
The complaint further states that when the miner went to seek help, he encountered a group of Upper Big Branch executives. Two of them refused to help him, instead continuing on to the mine.
It may seem like these facts are irrelevant at this point, but they play a very important part in proving Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) and showing that the widow is entitled to punitive damages.
IIED requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that she suffered grave emotional distress as a result of the defendant's extreme and outrageous conduct. Lying to a person about the way that their loved one died, as Upper Big Branch management allegedly did, is generally considered to outrageous conduct.
Punitive damages are only granted when a defendant's conduct was extreme, willful and reckless. While the plaintiff can probably meet her burden by demonstrating the countless safety violations that led up to the Massey mine blast, showing that executives failed to render aid boosts her claim.