For most Americans, the risk of injuries on a day-to-day basis is very low, with little worry that one will be habitually exposed to dangers such as a reckless driver, a hole in the ground, or an icy porch. For some, though, there are inherent risks in the work they do every day, arising from exposure to dangerous environmental conditions and elements. The risk of a Tennessee work injury is particularly high for people who work in the coal mining industry, which, for many years, has been proven to lead to serious health issues. In order to address these known complications, Congress passed the Black Lung Benefits Act, which entitles certain coal miners to benefits if they become physically disabled as a result of their coal mining work. A recent case before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals looked at what is required in order to qualify for these benefits.
In this administrative appeal case, R.D. filed a claim for black lung benefits after he was rendered fully disabled due to black lung disease and a lifetime spent working in the coal mines. During the pendency of his claims, he passed away, and his wife brought a claim for survivor’s benefits. R.D.’s claim was granted by the administrative law judge who heard the case and was appealed by the defense insurer, who requested a full hearing. After the full hearing, R.D.’s claim was again granted. The insurer appealed again to the administrative board, which also affirmed the grant of benefits. Finally, the insurer appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
Under the Black Lung Benefits Act, a claimant can qualify for benefits if he or she shows that (1) he or she is a miner (2) who suffers from black lung disease (3) arising out of coal mining employment (4) if it contributed to a partial or total disability. If a claimant shows that he or she worked in a coal mine for at least 15 years, and the work was in an underground mine or conditions substantially similar to an underground mine, there is a rebuttable presumption that the miner was disabled, or killed, by black lung disease. An employer or insurer may rebut the presumption by showing that the miner did not have black lung disease, or that any respiratory illness suffered by the miner did not arise from coal mine employment.