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The Proof Needed in Georgia Coal Mining Injury Cases

Coal mining was one of the industries that drove growth in the United States. However, many workers have suffered with the residual effects of this exposure.
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If you have suffered a Atlanta work injury, it is important to get the advice of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

Harman v. DOWCP is a recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case which arose because of a dispute over a workers’ compensation benefit award. Gary Looney (Looney) worked with Harman Mining Company (Harman) in Virginia as an industrial coal miner. For seventeen years Looney worked doing this heavy type of manual labor. Two years after Looney retired, he was diagnosed with disabling obstructive lung disease. Looney argued that this disease was contracted because of his exposure to dust particles while working for Harman. This caused Looney to enter a claim for workers’ compensation benefits from Harman.

This case hinged on the intricacies of the Black Lung Benefits Act (Act). This act was created to enable workers who were afflicted with black lung disease to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Black Lung Disease is the common term used to describe pneumoconiosis. This is a type of disease that arises in the respiratory and pulmonary systems because of exposure to harmful dusts. Pneumoconiosis is common among coal miners.

In order to be successful in a workers’ compensation claim for benefits under the Act, the claimant must prove that the reason they acquired this disease was directly related to their work with their employer.

Harman argued that because Looney was a chronic smoker, it was possible for him to have obtained this lung disease from smoking. Because there was no unanimous decision among the doctors who testified as to the causation element in this case, Harman refused to pay out benefits. Even further, Harman appealed the initial decision of the administrative law judge (ALJ) that awarded benefits to Looney.

This circuit court analyzed administrative, procedural and evidentiary principals of workers’ compensation claims. It is explained that there is a separate administrative agency that was created in order to deal with questions surrounding workers’ compensation, and benefit awards are to be awarded at the discretion of the ALJ. Because these agencies have the discretion to make decisions about claims, this court specified its role which is to establish whether the ALJ’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, factual findings and legal conclusions to warrant the decision.

In this case, the court held that the ALJ’s decision to award benefits to Looney was rational and consistent with the federal and state laws for several reasons. First, in the year 2000 the definition of pneumoconiosis in the Act was amended to include any obstructive or restrictive pulmonary disease that arose from coal mining employment. Next, the court specified that the claimant need only prove that the pneumoconiosis either arose because of their employment as a coal miner or that their work as a coal miner aggravated an already present condition.

Through a thorough investigation of the evidence presented to the ALJ, this court found that there was substantial medical evidence to prove Looney’s contention that the dust exposure associated with Looney’s work as a coal miner had caused this pulmonary disease. And because Harman failed to support their argument that there was a mistake of fact, its argument was unsuccessful.

Looney’s widow received the workers’ compensation benefits she was entitled to after her husband died from black lung disease.

If you have been injured on the job, contact your Georgia worker’s compensation attorneys at J. Franklin Burns, P.C. to schedule a free appointment. Call 404-303-7770.