After eight weeks, scores of witnesses, more than $100,000 in court costs and with several drowsy jurors, the Wilberg Mine trial finally is winding down.
Jury deliberations are expected to begin in about a week. Jurors, who have sat and sometimes nodded off during nearly 50 days of detailed and technical testimony, soon will decide who is responsible for the 1984 Wilberg Mine disaster that claimed the lives of 27 coal miners and cost Utah Power & Light Co. and its insurers millions.The trial is a result of an $86 million civil lawsuit brought by UP&L. The company hopes to be compensated for the $22 million it paid in an out-of-court settlement to widows and children of those killed in the mine fire Dec. 19, 1984. UP&L hopes to win $64 million more to reimburse insurance companies that covered UP&L losses resulting from the fire.
Jurors are faced with deciding who was at fault, to what degree they were at fault and the total damages. Fourth District Judge Ray M. Harding, who is hearing the case in a ballroom at the Excelsior Hotel, then will assess damages according to degree of comparative negligence determined by the jury.
"It's always a tough case to prove what happened during a fire in a mine when the artifacts stayed in the mine for so long," UP&L attorney Paul Felt said in reference to the months-long delay in recovering evidence from the mine.
UP&L is blaming the mine fire on Ingersoll-Rand of New Jersey, which manufactured an air compressor that a federal Mine Safety and Health