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Kentucky Supreme Court: Mine Foremen are not Required to be Experts in Other Industries’ Safety Standards

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The Kentucky Supreme Court has provided some welcome guidance concerning the potential civil liability of a mine operator arising from mine foremen inspecting non-mining related construction activities on mine property.  In response to a certified question from the Sixth Circuit, the Kentucky Supreme Court held in McCarty v. Covol Fuels No. 2, LLC, 2015 WL 6593081 (Ky. Oct. 29, 2015) that a subcontractor injured by a garage door he was installing on mine property could not hold the mine operator liable for violation of Kentucky mine safety statutes and regulations which were intended to address the unique hazards associated with coal mining.  Notably, the garage door was being installed on an unfinished building that was not being used in connection with the workings of the coal mine.     

Of particular importance was the Court’s analysis of KRS 352.280, KRS 352.330, KRS 352.040 and attendant regulations which require mine foremen to inspect and supervise mining activities.  The Court found that “[n]othing in the statutory text tasks the mine operator with tending to the safety of non-mining craftsmen and technicians and protecting them from the hazards of their own non-mining occupations.”

Importantly, this decision does not address duties arising from federal MSHA regulations, and leaves open the possibility that a mine operator may still be sued for failing to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition for subcontractors.

For questions about this decision, or other mine-related issues, please contact Jeff Phillips or Greg Neil. 

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