The U.S. General Accounting Office released a report examining processes and outcomes in the Federal Black Lung Benefits program. The program provides medical and income assistance to coal miners who suffer total disability or death due to lung disease caused by coal dust. The Black Lung Clinic at Washington and Lee University School of Law is mentioned several times in the report as a prominent provider of legal services for those seeking federal benefits.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) undertook the study of the program, which is administered by the Department of Labor (DOL), to determine how long it takes to process and resolve black lung benefits claims and to explore reasons claims are denied. The GAO also examined the barriers that confront miners or their survivors in pursuing their claims.
Washington and Lee University School of Law students have again prevailed in two Black Lung benefits disputes argued in 2009 before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Most recently, the Court ruled in favor of awarding Black Lung benefits to Dewey L. Compton, who worked in coal mining for 32 years. Compton originally filed for benefits in 1998 but was denied benefits for not proving he suffered total disability from pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease.
In the other case, Island Creek Coal Company v. Darrel B. Dewitt, the Court determined that Dewitt’s chronic pulmonary disease was caused by a combination of smoking and coal dust exposure during a 26 year stint working in the coal mines. Representatives of the coal company had maintained that Dewitt’s pulmonary disease was caused solely by smoking.
Black Lung student Ketan Patel ’09 wrote the brief on behalf of Mr. Dewitt. The Fourth Circuit determined that oral argument was not necessary and ruled in Mr. Dewitt’s favor, supporting earlier decisions by the administrative law judge and the Benefits Review Board.