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Mining Negligence: Knight Hawk Coal, LLC, LAKE 2014-121-R and LAKE 2014-575

Knight Hawk Coal appealed an ALJ decision upholding an unwarrantable failure and high negligence order arising out of a fatality at its Prairie Eagle South Mine in Illinois. A miner was fatally crushed when he entered the “red zone” of the continuous miner. Following an investigation of the accident, MSHA issued a Section 104(d)(2) order charging Knight Hawk with failing to keep the miner out of the “red zone” which constituted a violation of the mine’s approved roof control plan. MSHA interviewed miners and determined that there were many instances at the mine where miners, including the victim, had been in the danger zone of mobile equipment, yet MSHA found no evidence that disciplinary action had been taken again any miner who was in violation of the company’s red zone policy.

On appeal, Knight Hawk argued that the miners who were interviewed were not referring to the danger zone of the continuous miner but to the danger zone of other mobile equipment. Knight Hawk argued that the miners who were interviewed may have been confused because Knight Hawk used the term “red zone” more broadly than MSHA’s regulatory use of the term and tailored its training towards addressing the pinch point area around all mobile equipment, not just continuous miners. Knight Hawk argued that evidence of miners entering the danger zone of other equipment is irrelevant to whether it was highly negligent and whether it was an unwarrantable failure to comply because its roof control plan only prohibits miners from entering the “red zone” of a continuous miner.

In affirming the high negligence and unwarrantable failure determination, the Commission restated its position that it is not bound by MSHA’s Part 100 definitions and instead, “its Judges employ a traditional negligence analysis in support of an independent determination on the issue.” The Commission found that the record demonstrated that because Knight Hawk had on prior occasions observed the victim standing in the danger zone of other mobile equipment, in violation of company policy, this would have caused a reasonably prudent foreman under similar circumstances to take more stringent disciplinary action to address the problem or at least report the occurrences to mine management, which was not done. The Commission also found that that Knight Hawk’s broader view of the “red zone” may have diluted the need for extra caution in the “red zone” around the continuous miner.

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About this Author

Robert Huston Beatty Jr, Dinsmore Shohl Law Natural Resources Litigation, lawyer

Robert Huston Beatty, Jr. is a member of the Natural Resources Practice Group. Bob represents mine operators before federal and state administrative agencies, federal courts, and state courts. He also provides pre-enforcement consulting services, including comprehensive training for mine managers and safety professionals.


J.D., West Virginia University College of Law (1993)
B.A., West Virginia University (magna cum laude, honors scholar, 1990)

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Jason M. Nutzman, Dinsmore Law, Labor Lawyer, Mine Safety Attorney

Jason Nutzman is a member of the Labor & Employment Department and Mine Safety & Health Practice Group. Jason represents clients before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in accident investigations, special investigations, and discrimination investigations conducted by the Department of Labor with respect to the
Mine Safety and Health Act.

In his practice, he works with human resource managers and in-house counsel providing employment advice and litigation support to employers. Jason also provides employment counseling to employers from the beginning of the employment relationship through termination and employment advice covering all types of discrimination and wrongful discharge, FMLA, ADA, ADEA and FLSA issues, and non-compete agreements. Jason is also experienced in representing clients regarding labor issues, including dealing with unions during a labor campaign and assisting management with a unionized workforce.

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Max Corley, Labor, Employment Practice, attorney, Dinsmore Shohl, law firm

Max Corley is a Partner in the Labor Department and a member of the Employment Practice Group. His practice is focused on the defense of clients in federal and state coal mine safety and met/nonmetal safety regulatory matters before federal and state administrative agencies, federal court and state courts and civil defense litigation. Max regularly represents mine operators and contractors in the coal industry and in the metal/nonmetal sector of MSHA enforcement, including mine operators, quarry operators and producers of various metals, stone, sand, gravel and other...