With a new set of favorable court rulings, Utah Power & Light is closer to forcing insurance companies to pick up the cost of the Wilberg Mine disaster settlement.
Fire swept through the Emery County mine in December 1984, killing 27 miners and company officials. Relatives filed suit. Eventually UP&L, the mine's owner, settled their claims for $21,989,381.Emery Mining Co., which managed the mine for UP&L, had $50.5 million in insurance coverage. In 1987, UP&L informed the insurers - which included primary insurance companies and backup firms - that it intended to settle.
UP&L settled, but when it sought reimbursement from the insurance companies, some resisted. At that point, UP&L sued those companies in federal court.
U.S. District Judge David Sam now has ruled that when the UP&L suit comes to trial the in-surance firms can't raise "specific defenses, including the statutory employer defense, that could have been raised in the Carter action."
The Carter action is the suit that the victims' relatives filed in 4th District Court, Utah County. The statutory employer defense is a legal claim that an employer can't be forced to pay more to settle a suit for on-job injuries than is provided in state Workmen's Compensation funds.
If the insurers could have invoked the statutory employer defense, they might have been able to limit their compensation for UP&L to levels provided in Workmen's Compensation.
Underlining an earlier ruling, Sam also said insurance companies can't contest the reasonableness of the settlement.
Federal Insurance Co. was the primary provider, according to UP&L. Other parties named in UP&L's suit include International Insurance Co., Twin City Fire Insurance Co., First State Insurance Co.
In his latest ruling, Sam added, "Defendant insurers are banned from claiming in the present action that Utah Power & Light failed to cooperate in the defense of the Carter action."
Other legal issues await resolution by trial.