ACLC director Steve Sanders recently won a significant black lung benefits case in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. James Adams worked as an underground coal miner for 17 years and was diagnosed with black lung in 2007. The administrative law judge awarded benefits to Mr. Adams.
The Court of Appeals rejected the argument of the coal company that the judge erred in evaluating the medical opinion evidence through reference to the U.S. Department of Labor’s analysis of the medical science regarding miner’s occupational lung disease. The Department’s analysis was published in 2000 in the Federal Register as a preamble to the regulations governing the black lung benefits program and it analyzed the validity of various comments submitted to the Department in the process of writing the regulations.
Significantly, in the preamble the Department credited the medical science which reported that black lung causes restrictive and obstructive impairments and may be a progressive and latent disease, which first appears after exposure to coal mine dust has ended.
Because the Court issued a published decision, it ensured that the discussion of the medical science regarding black lung contained in the preamble may be used to decide the weight of medical opinion evidence in individual black lung claims. Coal miners will be able to rely on this important decision to strengthen their claims in future black lung cases.