Wyoming SC upholds $9.5 million award to coal miner

Chris Rizo Jun. 11, 2008, 1:29pm

William Hill

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Legal Newsline) - The Wyoming Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a $9.46 million award to a coal miner who was paralyzed in a January 2002 accident at the Black Thunder Coal Mine.

A Gillette, Wyo., jury said last year that miner Les Butts was entitled to $18 million and each of his two sons were entitled to $2 million in damages.

Jurors determined the Wright, Wyo.-based Thunder Basin Coal Co. was 57 percent responsible for the accident.

The mine itself was not punished since it is immune from employee lawsuits because it pays into the state workers' compensation program.

The Black Thunder Mine is a surface mine in the coal-rich Powder River Basin.

Jurors also said that mine manager Kevin Hampleman was 18 percent responsible for the accident, while safety manager Michael Hannifan bore a quarter of the blame.

They were responsible for paying a $9.46 million award, which was upheld Wednesday.

The high court said in the ruling written by Justice William Hill that the jury was given proper instructions in the case.

"The instructions given by the district court adequately instructed the jury on the law applicable to this case," Hill wrote. "Appellants are not entitled to a mistrial nor are they entitled to a new trial."

Hill is a former Wyoming attorney general. He served as AG from March 1995 until he was appointed to the high court in November 1998.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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