Georgia Coal Miners May Qualify for Benefits under the Black Lung Act

Georgia workers’ compensation claimants may have to go through multiple appeals to obtain the benefits they deserve. Such was the situation in a recent case involving a coal miner who was attempting to obtain benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the claimant worked as a coal miner for about 30 years, during which he suffered two heart attacks. Despite having difficulty breathing, the claimant continued to work. Evidently, he smoked cigarettes for many years but quit smoking after his first heart attack. The claimant’s breathing problems became severe about six years after he had stopped working as a coal miner. He used an oxygen monitor and supplemental oxygen when his oxygen levels got too low. After his breathing problems worsened, the claimant sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. His claim was first denied, but he successfully appealed. The claimant’s employer appealed to the state’s high court.

Benefits Under the Black Lung Benefits Act

The Black Lung Benefits Act was passed to provide compensation and medical benefits to coal miners to treat their lung injuries. The Act is meant to apply to coal miners who develop pneumoconiosis, a lung disease that is caused by inhaling dust. The Act also provides benefits to family members of coal miners whose deaths are attributable to the disease. The Division of Coal Mine Workers’ Compensation, also known as the Black Lung Program, administers claims filed under the Black Lung Benefits Act. The Division provides monthly compensation and medical coverage for treating covered lung diseases.

To be eligible for benefits, a claimant must show: 1) the miner has pneumoconiosis, 2) the pneumoconiosis arose out of working in coal mines, 3) the miner is totally disabled, and 4) the pneumoconiosis contributes to the miner’s total disability. To show that the miner’s injury is totally disabling, the miner has to establish that the impairment prevents the miner “from performing his or her usual coal mine work” and “from engaging in gainful employment . . . requiring the skills or abilities comparable to those of any employment in a mine” in the area near the miner’s home.

The Court’s Decision

In this case, an administrative law judge first denied the miner’s claim because the judge decided the claimant had not proved he had a totally disabling respiratory or pulmonary impairment. The claimant then appealed to the Department of Labor Review Board, who reviewed the claim, sent it back to the administrative law judge for further consideration, and who then granted the claim. The employer then appealed to the Board, who affirmed the judge’s decision, and the employer appealed again to a federal appeals court. The federal appeals court decided that the claimant proved that he was entitled to benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. The claimant had credible evidence supporting his claim that he had pneumoconiosis and that he was disabled from engaging in work as a coal miner.

Contact a Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Work injuries can have devastating effects on the worker and the worker’s families. Do not let insurance companies take advantage of you during this difficult time. The Atlanta law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C. is dedicated to representing injured workers. Our Georgia workers’ compensation attorneys are authorities on Georgia’s workers’ compensation law, and as former insurance defense attorneys, we understand the other side’s strategies and tactics. For a free consultation, call 404-303-7770 or contact us through our online form.

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