Countless coal miners who have plied their trade underground over several decades find that the next chapter following the end of their careers is spent battling a deadly illness. Options exist to secure compensation, but the road to that goal is long.
Consider them the “Davids” battling the “Goliaths,” putting them on the front lines to fight two battles. One against black lung, a disease without a cure, only treatments can stop further lung damage and improve quality of life. The other against the influential attorneys who work for the companies that knowingly put them in hazardous environments.
Countless obstacles and barriers
Far too many times, the battle for compensation looks more and more like a lost cause for those who have worked hard and are now dealing with a deadly disease. Legal pursuits present seemingly unlimited challenges. Many miners are discouraged by the low success rates of their peers stricken with black lung and the scarcity of lawyers who will even take on these cases.
Even when an attorney agrees to represent black lung victims, a complicated and oftentimes frustrating battle begins. Instead of courtrooms and juries, securing benefits becomes an administrative process where a ruling of “total disability” is the goal.
The first step is approval by a claims examiner in the Labor Department, where approximately 85 percent of claims are denied. Attorneys for the coal companies present evidence of medical records, X-rays, scans, and tests. Rare approvals result in immediate appeals to administrative law judges, also part of the same government bureaucracy.
Credentialed physicians, paid to analyze the information, will almost always side with the employers, working hard to undermine the evidence presented to them and the severity of the applicant’s illness. From there, cases can go to a federal appeals court and all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Securing benefits for black lung is not impossible. It requires a law firm that focuses on this complex area of the law and dedicates its resources to fight for the rights of black lung victims and their families.