Black lung disease and lawsuits
Black lung disease is a common term for conditions acquired by inhaling coal dust. Medically the condition is referred to as coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) and can include a simple condition or a more complex condition which includes progressive massive fibrosis (PMF).
If you have worked in a coal mine, or if you have been employed coal trimming (loading and stowing coal for storage), mining or milling graphite, or manufacturing carbon electrodes the dust from these jobs may have accumulated in your lungs and caused CWP.
In the later stages of CWP you may experience a wide range of symptoms including a cough, shortness of breath, and moderate to severe airway obstruction. If the disease has progressed further you may also have abnormal lung tissue, emphysema or fibrosis.
Filing a claim for black lung disease
If you have been diagnosed with black lung disease you may be eligible for benefits provided under the federal Black Lung Benefits Program, which is administered by the Department of Labor (DOL). Under this program, assuming you are totally disabled, you may qualify for a monthly payment and medical treatment. Dependents of deceased workers who have black lung disease may also qualify for monthly payments.
How to Apply for Black Lung Program Benefits
To apply for federal black lung benefits you will have to file a claim with the Department of Labor District Director. You will be required to attend a free medical examination. At this examination the doctor will determine if you have the condition and your level of disability. The Department of Labor will pay for the medical examination, and the miner will be reimbursed for the reasonable cost of transportation to and from the authorized examination.
The evaluation will consist of an X-ray reading, a pulmonary function test, an arterial blood gas study, and a medical opinion. If you are denied benefits you can appeal the decision to the Administrative Law Judge. If you are denied you have the right to hire a lawyer to appeal the denial. The lawyer is paid only if you receive benefits for your condition. For more information about the program visit http://www.dol.gov/owcp/dcmwc/regs/compliance/blbenact.htm
Back log for disability claims
Unfortunately, like all federal disability cases it sounds like getting compensation for black lung disease can be a difficult and lengthy process, especially if your case is denied at the application level and you have to wait for an administrative law judge to hear your case. Additionally, the number of judges has dwindled in recent years and the number of cases has increased.
Contact the nearest Department of Labor Black Lung office or Social Security Administration office for more information about black lung disease benefits. The staff will have the necessary Department of Labor forms and will help you file a claim.
Will I need a lawyer?
In many cases if you suffer from black lung disease and are seeking compensation you will need to hire a lawyer. The coal companies have lawyers to represent them and fight miners in these claims. In the majority of cases, a miner will not receive adequate compensation for lung disease without having a lawyer.
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A judgment can be enforced but you will have to take the initiative and the proper legal steps.
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