Facts: P sued two coal companies for $50k of alleged damages to their home as a result
of blasting. Both were assessed 50% liability in addition CCC was assessed $45k in
punitive damages. Ps home is located just above IC’s east diamond mine that is 5000
acres of underground mines containing seams of coal. P bought his house knowing the
house was over mines and was aware of the risk of subsidence. CCC engaged in strip
mining in various areas nearby P’s home with explosives. IC claims that the only way
subsidence could have occurred was based on CCC’s blasting or sewage discharge. CCC
claimed that the house was too remote from the blast to cause any direct damage. CCC
believed the subsidence was based on IC extracting coal from the seams under the
subdivision.
Issue:
Holding:
Rationale:
– An underground mine operator is obligated to support the surface and leave it in
its natural state. The right to mine is subservient to the right of the surface owners
to have the surface maintained in its natural state free from subsidence or partings
of the soil and this right of support is absolute and not dependent upon any
questions of negligence
– IC argues that it severed the coal in 1905, the area where P’s house now stands
was only remote woodland. Therefore, they argue, they can not be liable for
buildings placed on the land 72 years later. However Kentucky defines natural
state as the condition of the surface including reasonable and foreseeable
improvements thereon at the time the coal was severed, not from the fee, but from
the earth
– Strict liability will be imposed to naturally necessary subjacent support which the
supported land itself requires and which its natural condition would not require,
therefore IC should be liable for the natural state of the surface as of the last time
it took coal from the earth in 1963.