Workers Compensation Attorney Law Firm is a highly rated and experienced law firm that serves coal miners diagnosed with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly referred to as black lung disease. Our attorneys specialize in obtaining claim benefits for coal miners in and around the Los Angeles area. The law firm is familiar with special provisions that apply with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis claims and can help the injured party claim all the benefits they’re entitled to.

What Injuries are Covered Under California Workers’ Compensation?

Injuries can happen anywhere and to anyone. Such scenarios are frightening in their suddenness and may change the injured person’s life. When an injury takes place during a work-related activity, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide the injured worker with the entitled compensation. All workers that suffer an injury while at work or during a work-related activity elsewhere are entitled to receive workers’ compensation under California law. Worker’s compensation provides coverage for medical care and lost wages. It may also provide coverage benefits to the injured worker if the injury renders the individual unable to work for a period. All such injuries are compensable under workers’ compensation law. The types of work-related injuries that may be compensable under California workers' compensation law are:

  • Physical trauma
  • Occupation illness
  • Physical-mental injuries
  • Mental-physical injuries
  • Mental injuries
  • Repetitive stress or cumulative trauma injuries
  • New injuries caused due to pre-existing conditions or previous work injury

It is important to understand that injuries other than those caused by work accidents (slips, falls, heavy falling objects, etc.) can also qualify under compensable injuries. Injuries that develop over months or years of doing activities somehow related to an employment condition or requirement may also qualify for compensation under workers’ compensation.

The same is the case with illnesses that develop over time as part of the employment. If a worker in any workplace environment is continually exposed to potential dangers, such as exposure to coal dust, it can lead to serious health risks and illnesses. A commonly seen occupational illness is black lung disease, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP).

What in Black Lung?

The black lung disease is an occupational illness that is caused by inhalation of coal dust over a prolonged amount of time. Since the exposure of coal dust is supposedly the highest among people who work, or have previously worked, in coal mines, they are the ones most commonly affected by this disease. This is also the reason why black lung is also referred as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP).  

As coal miners or workers employed in areas near coal mines breathe coal dust, particles settle in their airways and lungs. Every time coal mine dust is inhaled, the body’s immune system tries to get rid of those particles and directs macrophages (a type of white blood cell) to remove the foreign particles from the body. However, because a regular individual’s body is not equipped to handle the increased exposure to coal dust, it may result in inflammation, which may further lead to scarring of the lung tissue. The blockage of the airways may cause permanent scarring if the period of exposure to the coal dust extend to at least ten (10) years. The state of permanent scarring may progress to what’s known as the “complicated” black lung disease or progressive massive fibrosis (PMF).

The extent of the disease depends on the amount of dust inhaled and the period of one’s exposure to coal mine dust.

Types of Black Lung disease

There are two forms of black lung disease, based on the severity of the coal miner’s condition:

Simple Black Lung Disease: Simple CWP develops after the initial, milder form of the disease known as anthracnosis, which is often asymptomatic. This is commonly found, to some extent, in all urban inhabitants due to higher levels of air pollution in towns and cities. Simple black lung shows the lung X-ray with spots or scar tissue from dust particles.

Symptoms: There are no clear symptoms. It generally causes shortness of breath, chronic cough, and tightness of the chest.

Complicated Black Lung Disease: Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of respirable coal dust may result in complicated CWP, which involves enhanced levels of scarring on the lungs. It is also called progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). It is not common that the simple black lung condition progresses to the complicated stage, but when it does, it often results in poor prognosis.

Symptoms: The common indicators of progression from simple to complicated stage include shortness of breath, chronic cough, lung dysfunction, black sputum, pulmonary hypertension, and heart-related issues.

The symptoms of black lung disease are similar to other diseases related to the lungs, and thus difficult to detect. Black lung disease can be diagnosed through an occupational history of prolonged exposure to coal dust. The occupational history should not only include details of recent and past full-time employment, but also part-time jobs, such as summer jobs, volunteering jobs, etc. Black lung disease is also detected by a chest X-ray, along with CT scans and/or lung biopsies, which may be required for assistance in diagnosis.

Since there is no proven treatment, when diagnosed with black lung (CWP), a worker should limit further exposure to harmful levels of coal dust and have his or her respiratory health monitored by a specialist physician on a regular basis. Sometimes, supplemental oxygen and pulmonary rehabilitation are recommended, apart from restriction to further exposure. There are several U.S. laws regarding black lung (or coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, CWP) and its treatment. The federal government may pay for treatment costs to “eligible” individuals.

Data on the magnitude of the problem, despite modern safety measures employed by coal mine operators, has come as a surprise to the researchers. As reported by the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Administration and black lung clinics, there has been a rise in black lung disease among American coal miners.

Coal miners diagnosed with black lung disease may file a claim and seek benefits under state workers’ compensation or federal law.

When Diagnosed with Black Lung Disease Under Workers’ Compensation

Employers may be responsible for your illness considering the damages may be caused by their negligence of harmful coal dust exposure, and their inability to abide by the regulations that may have prevented the disease.

The first thing that needs to be done after the diagnosis of black lung is to inform your employer (or previous employer). One must report and quickly register a claim through your state’s workers’ compensation system by a certain deadline. The deadline for filing the claim may vary in different states, however, the time limit starts from the time you last faced exposure to coal dust, when the symptoms started to occur, or when you were diagnosed with the disease by a specialist doctor.

A coal mining company in which you were working as an employee may be required to pay for the benefits if it meets certain obligations under the law. Operators of the underground coal mine are expected to provide for these benefits either by acquiring insurance for benefits or through self-insurance officially approved by the Department of Labor (DOL). Generally, the last coal operator is responsible for paying the benefits if a claim is approved. If the mine operator’s assets are under a company’s jurisdiction the company would be deemed responsible for the payment of claims.

If the responsible mine operator is no longer present, has no successor operator, or is incapable of meeting other obligations, the federal government pays the benefits. Originally, the federal benefits were compensated from the general revenue, under Part C of the Coal Act. However, in accordance with the Black Lung Benefits Revenue Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-227), the benefits are now paid by the established Black Lung Disability Trust Fund under this law and chiefly funded by an excise tax on coal.

About the Black Lung Benefits Program

The Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA) is a U.S. federal workers’ compensation benefits program established under the federal government. As per Title IV of the federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, as amended in 1972, 1978, and 1981, the BLBA Act assists totally disabled coal dust miners due to black lung disease (pneumoconiosis) as a result of employment in coal mines. As per the Act, coal miners may receive monthly payments and medical benefits. Eligible coal workers may also receive medical treatment for lung diseases linked to pneumoconiosis. However, it is noteworthy that medical expenses are limited to treatment of medical conditions directly related to black lung disease, and only former miners who are totally disabled can be eligible for such benefits.

Expenses like medical, surgical, nursing care, hospital, rehabilitation services along with other drug and equipment costs are covered under medical expenses.

The coal miner seeking black lung workers’ compensation may also receive additional benefits for dependent family members and for the cost of their own medical treatment.

Part B of the Federal Black Lung Program, established by the Coal Act, it provides cash benefits to coal miners that are totally disabled due to black lung (coal worker’s pneumoconiosis) as well as to the surviving dependents of miners who died due to coal worker’s pneumoconiosis. It is only applicable to cases that took place on or before December 31, 1972. Administered by the Department of Labor (DOL), Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), these benefits are paid from general revenue.

Part C of the Federal Black Lung Program, established by the Coal Act, it caters to cases filed after December 31, 1972. Under this part of the Black Lung Benefits Act, all benefit claims related to black lung disability or death are to be filed with a state’s workers’ compensation system, but this is the case only if such systems are determined by DOL as providing benefits that are equivalent to or greater than the cash benefits provided by the federal government under Part B of the BLBA and the medical benefits provided to disabled longshore and harbor workers under the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).

When the state’s workers’ compensation system is not determined by DOL to meet given standards, Part C benefits are to be paid by each miner’s responsible employer. In case there is no responsible employer or the employer is unable to pay the benefits, the benefits are paid by the federal government.

The Division of Coal Mine Workers’ Compensation (DCMWC) within the Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for the distribution of black lung benefit payments. DCMWC controls the administration of benefits paid from the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund and by responsible operators of coal mines under Part C of the Black Lung Benefits Act, as well as benefits paid under Part B of the Act. It ensures timely and correct payments for eligible claimants for the smooth operation of the process.

Eligibility for Black Lung Benefits

Administered by the Division of Coal Mine Workers' Compensation, under the Black Lung Benefits Act, a miner and the survivors of a miner diagnosed with black lung disease are eligible for certain benefits.

According to the Black Lung Benefits Act, a miner is defined as

any individual who works or has worked in or around a coal mine or coal preparation facility in the extraction or preparation of coal. Such term also includes an individual who works or has worked in coal mine construction or transportation in or around a coal mine, to the extent such individual was exposed to coal dust as a result of such employment.1

This clearly marks out workers, such as railroad workers or workers at coal-fired facilities, exposed to coal dust in their work are not entitled to black lung benefits. Likewise, people living nearby coal mines or power plants are not qualified to claim for black lung benefits.

For clarity in terms of eligibility for benefits, the Black Lung Benefits Act describes pneumoconiosis as a chronic dust ailment of the lung and its sequelae, which may include respiratory and pulmonary damages, arising due to employment in coal mines.

Miner’s Benefits

The black lung program provides monthly cash payments and medical benefits to the eligible miners. For the miner to be eligible for benefits, he or she must be “totally disable”. Total disability indicates a situation where the miner is no longer able to do the previous coal mining work, and, is incapable of meeting the physical demands of other coal mine work.

The Act covers miner’s medical treatment costs for the disease as well as associated travel expenses involved in the treatment of black lung condition. The medical services that would likely be covered for treatment of a black lung condition include prescription drug coverage, hospital charges, outpatient therapy, and medical equipment costs.

It is not required to make a co-payment, but payment for medical treatment services is subject to a certain maximum allowable total. Also, payment for any travel is limited to reasonable costs. The black lung benefit payments are determined by reference to the federal employee salary scales and increase automatically when federal salaries are increased.

In order to qualify for these benefits, one must file the claim within the restricted time and have a complete “pulmonary evaluation” paid for by the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund in order to get a medical verification that the disease has resulted into a permanent disability. This medical examination is offered without any cost by the Department of Labor and consists of a physical exam, a pulmonary function test, a chest X-ray and an arterial blood gas (ABG) test.

Survivor’s Benefits

The surviving dependents of a miner are also eligible for certain benefits if the miner’s death is attributable to pneumoconiosis arising out of employment in the coal mine. The claimant spouse of a miner, whether surviving or divorced, is eligible for cash benefits equal to the amount what the miner would be eligible of and depends on the total count of dependents of the spouse. If the claimant spouse has three or more dependents, the monthly black lung benefits for CY2019 can be as high as $1,320.10; for two dependents, the benefit amount can be $1,155.10; for a claimant with one dependent, it is $990.10 and $660.10 for a claimant spouse with no dependents.

If the miner has no surviving spouse, the benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act would be awarded to the surviving minor children in equivalent shares. In the absence of no surviving minor children, the miner’s dependent parents or siblings would be eligible for the benefits. In case of no eligible surviving dependents, no benefits shall be paid upon the death of the miner. It is clearly stated that the benefits cannot be given to the miner’s estate or any individual proposed by the miner in the will.

The family members of a miner may be eligible to obtain benefits as surviving dependents and the amount of monthly benefits for the miner may increase based on the number of family members. However, it is noteworthy that the members of miner’s family may not be eligible for benefits based on their own exposure to coal mine dust in the home, for instance, exposure to coal dust from washing soiled garments of the miner.

Eligibility Presumptions

The Black Lung Benefits Act has five (5) presumptions—rebuttable and irrebuttable—that form the basis of a miner’s eligibility for black lung benefits. The Act provides three (3) rebuttable presumptions, which means, in the absence of any contrary evidence, the eligibility for benefits is presumed. An irrebuttable presumption establishes the benefits eligibility for the Black Lung program if the statutory requirements of the presumption are met. Here are the briefs about the five (5) presumptions as provided by the Black Lung Benefits Act.

  • For a miner who has worked in mining for a minimum of 10 years, a rebuttable presumption is that pneumoconiosis was caused by the employment.
  • For a miner who worked for a minimum of 10 years in mine employment and died due to a respirable disease, then it is a rebuttable presumption that the miner’s death was due to pneumoconiosis. This presumption is not applicable on claims filed on or after January 1, 1982.
  • An irrebuttable presumption is that if a coal miner has chronic lung disease that meets statutory standards, then it is presumed that the miner’s totally disabled is due to pneumoconiosis or has died due to pneumoconiosis.
  • If a miner is employed in mining for a period of at least 15 years and has negative chest x-ray with respect to certain statutory tests or diagnoses, but has other sources of evidence for pulmonary or respiratory impairment, then it is a rebuttable presumption that the miner has total disability due to pneumoconiosis or has died due to pneumoconiosis.
  • For a miner who worked for a minimum of 25 years before June 30, 1971 and died on or before March 1, 1978, it is a presumption that the cause of death is pneumoconiosis, lest it has been ascertained that the individual was not at least partially disabled at the time of death due to pneumoconiosis. The presumption comes with an exception that it is not applicable to benefit claims filed on or after June 29, 1982.

Two (2) of these presumptions apply only to claims filed before the end of 1981 while three (3) of these eligibility presumptions apply to current claims of the Black Lung Program.

Find a Workers Compensation Attorney Specializing in Black Lung Cases Near Me

Considering the complexity involved in the process of obtaining worker’s compensation after being diagnosed with black lung disease, you would need the expertise and experience of an attorney like Workers Compensation Attorney Law Firm. Our specialized attorney is familiar with various special provisions that apply with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis claims and will help the party claim for all the benefits they are entitled to.  If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with black lung, managing your workers’ compensation claim can seem like a losing battle, we are ready to help you. If you live in the city or county of Los Angeles, call our Los Angeles workers compensation attorney at 310-956-4277 today to get in touch with one of our highly qualified legal experts regarding your black lung workers’ compensation case.