Black Lung is a disease caused by breathing coal mine dust. It is incurable and it often gets worse over time. Treatment is limited to relieving symptoms and preventing complications.
Black Lung includes clinical coal workers’ pneumoconiosis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) caused by coal mine dust exposure.
The 1969 Coal Mine Safety Act created a federal compensation program for miners disabled by Black Lung and their survivors. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP).
ACLC advocates for stronger laws to protect Black Lung sufferers. ACLC, along with the National Black Lung Association and others, advocates for changes in legislation and regulations to improve the Black Lung benefits program. ACLC has worked for years for regulations that reduce the allowable level of dust in mines in an effort to eliminate Black Lung.
ACLC also advises and represents disabled miners and widows on their individual claims under the federal compensation program. It is often difficult for miners and widows to meet the eligibility standards. Also, because coal operators are responsible for paying Black Lung benefits, they fiercely litigate all claims.
The following three Black Lung appeals highlight the long and difficult road that claimants face when applying for federal Black Lung Benefits:
* In 2005, in the case Ruby Sammons v. Wolf Creek Collieries, the 6th Circuit affirmed the award of widows’ benefits to Ms. Sammons and commented on the Employer’s efforts to prolong the “30-year war” of fighting her claim. Mrs. Sammons filed her claim in 1976.
* In Elliot Rowe v. Johnson Coal Co., Mr. Rowe first filed for benefits in 1989. After multiple appeals to the Benefits Review Board (BRB), the ALJ finally decided in Mr. Johnson’s favor, awarding benefits, and denying the Employer’s attempt to reopen the adjudication. In 2009, the BRB affirmed the ALJ’s award of benefits.
* In 2005, in Edgar Martin v. Ligon Preparation Co., the 6th Circuit held that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate medical evidence and reversed the decisions of the ALJ and the BRB that had denied Mr. Martin benefits. After three years of additional litigation Mr. Martin’s claim was approved in 2009, 22 years after Mr. Martin applied for Black Lung benefits. The employer has appealed the most recent decision to the Benefits Review Board.
OVERVIEW OF FEDERAL BLACK LUNG BENEFITS PROGRAM(PDF slideshow)