Fighting for Justice in the Coalfields

ACLC Attorney and Skadden Fellow Evan Smith Wins First Black Lung Case

WHITESBURG — Only six months into his fellowship, Whitesburg native and recipient of the prestigious Skadden Fellowship, has already won his first case securing black lung benefits for a retired coal miner. Working with the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Smith took the case of retired coal miner Donald Brown.

Brown worked as an underground miner for 26 years for South East Coal Company and Golden Oak Mining. He began having breathing problems after he retired and filed for federal black lung benefits. At first the Department of Labor indicated that it would deny his claim, so Brown came to Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center for help. As Brown’s attorney, Evan Smith filed additional medical evidence which showed that Brown could no longer work in the mines due to his black lung, and the Department of Labor changed course and agreed that Brown is entitled to black lung benefits, including a medical card to cover the costs of his respiratory care.

Smith joined the staff at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in the fall of 2013 as a recipient of a Skadden Fellowship to work with coal miners and their families in mine safety and black lung cases. The Skadden Fellowship program, which has been described as “a legal Peace Corps,” was established in 1988, to support graduating law students committed to public interest work as they embark upon specific projects at sponsoring organizations.

Prior to returning to eastern Kentucky, Smith attended law school at the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated magna cum laude, served as an Articles Editor on the Law Review, and received a Master’s in Public Administration.

Smith is one of three lawyers at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center providing free legal services for miners seeking black lung benefits Changes in the law under Affordable Care Act of 2010 have greatly improved the likelihood of winning black lung benefits cases.

Under these changes, a miner with at least fifteen years of underground coal mine employment or surface mine work with similar dust exposure who has a disabling breathing impairment is entitled to the presumption that the disability is due to Black Lung. For a widow, there is a presumption that the miner’s death was due to Black Lung. The widow of a miner who was disabled by Black Lung at the time of his death is automatically entitled to benefits.

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