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Record $210M Settlement in Big Branch Mine explosion

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on December 06, 2011 1:46 PM

Federal prosecutors have settled a number of criminal and civil claims related to April 2010's Big Branch Mine explosion. Alpha Natural Resources, which bought mine operator Massey Energy in June, has agreed to a $210 million settlement.

It is the biggest settlement ever reached in a U.S. mine disaster, the BBC reports.

Approximately $165 million will go towards government fines and improving safety at the Big Branch Mine. The remaining $45 million will compensate the victims -- 2 survivors and the families of 29 miners killed by the blast.

That comes to $1.5 million each.

That figure is about half of what Massey Energy initially offered a month after the Big Branch Mine explosion, reports the Associated Press. A number of families refused the initial offer., while 18 of them went on to file wrongful death suits.

Eight of those suits have also settled, but for an undisclosed amount.

The remaining wrongful death suits will likely be affected by statements made in conjunction with today's settlement. The Mine Safety and Health Administration linked the blast to a "corporate culture" of placing production over safety, explains NPR. The Administration's official report also details Massey's lackluster safety standards.

Such damning evidence will probably encourage new owner Alpha to settle the remaining claims. Most West Virginians have a connection to the mining industry, which means potential jurors may be more likely to award large sums of money.

Though a settlement may not reach the $3 million mark, victims' families may still get further retribution. The government's settlement does not preclude bringing criminal charges against any of the individuals responsible for the Big Branch Mine explosion.

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