Workers’ Compensation and Disability Benefits for Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (Black Lung) in Virginia
Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, also called black lung, is an occupational disease caused by exposure to coal dust. Black lung is a serious lung disease that causes permanent damage, affects breathing and heart function, and is sometimes fatal. Coal miners who develop black lung can file claims for benefits under state and federal workers’ compensation laws.
This article explains how coal miners can receive workers’ compensation benefits for black lung in Virginia. If you have questions about your rights, or are looking for legal representation, contact workers compensation attorney Corey Pollard for a free consultation. We can help you and your loved ones receive the income you deserve for your occupational lung disease.
What is Black Lung Disease?
Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis is a lung disease that results from inhaling coal dust or graphite. Though most of us think of coal dust exposure as only being possible underground, it can also happen above ground when the coal is being processed or strip mined.
Coal dust can spread throughout the lungs over time. The more coal dust you are exposed to, and the longer the period of exposure, the more likely it is that coal dust will deposit in the lungs.
Coal dust can block the airways and cause permanent scarring. Usually it takes at least ten years to develop black lung, though it can develop sooner. This is why many doctors recommend that coal workers have chest x-rays every year so that the disease can be detected and monitored.
There is no cure for coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, so prevention is crucial. The body is unable to expel coal dust particles from the lungs.
Types of Black Lung Disease
There are two types of black lung disease: simple and complex (progressive massive fibrosis).
Most coal miners who contract black lung disease have what’s called “simple coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.” This type of black lung often causes minor symptoms such as coughing or becoming short of breath.
Each year a small percentage of coal miners develop the more serious form of black lung – progressive massive fibrosis. With this condition, large scars develop in the lungs in reaction to the coal dust. Lung tissue and blood vessels in the lungs may be destroyed by the scarring.
Coal miners with rheumatoid arthritis are at risk of suffering from Caplan’s syndrome, a disorder where large round nodules of scarring develop quickly in the lungs.
How is Black Lung Diagnosed and Treated?
Doctors diagnosis black lung after identifying abnormalities, also called “opacities,” on a chest x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan. A doctor can determine the degree of the coal workers’ pneumoconiosis based on the number and size of the opacities.
Once your doctor diagnoses black lung based on a positive chest x-ray, he or she will refer you for pulmonary function testing and arterial blood gas tests. These diagnostic procedures will show the level of damage to your lungs from coal dust exposure.
Depending on the severity of your black lung, your doctor may recommend that you find a new career or that you seek reassignment to a safer position at the coal mine. You may also be prescribed inhalers, nebulizers, and an oxygen tank.
Filing a Workers Compensation Claim for Black Lung
Coal workers who have developed black lung may file a workers’ compensation claim in Virginia.
Time Limits for Black Lung Workers’ Compensation Claims
You must notify your employer immediately once you are diagnosed with black lung. Virginia has a strict time limit for providing notice. You have sixty (60) days to give written notice to your employer that you have black lung.
There is also a strict time limit for when you must file a workers’ comp claim for black lung disease. Virginia Code Section 65.2-406 (A)(1) states that the statute of limitations for coal miners’ pneumoconiosis is three years after a diagnosis of the disease, as category 1/0 or greater as classified under the current International Labour Office Classification of the Radiographs of the Pneumoconiosis, is first communicated to the employee or the legal representative of his estate or within five years from the date of last injurious exposure in employment, whichever first occurs.
Calculation of the above statute of limitations does not begin, however, until the employer gives the coal miner notice of his or her rights in the following form:
In the event a diagnosis of coal miners’ pneumoconiosis (including black lung, silicosis, pneumoconiosis, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, rock dust, dust, dust on your lungs or terms of similar meaning) is communicated to you, you may have a workers’ compensation claim. However, such claim may be lost if you do not file it with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission within the time limit provided by law. You may find out what time limit applies to your claim by contacting the Workers’ Compensation Commission. The fact that you are told that you have coal miners’ pneumoconiosis which has not reached the compensable level under the guidelines of the Workers’ Compensation Commission or that you are still able to work or are working does not stop the time from running or otherwise relieve you of your duty to file your claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Special Provisions for Black Lung Workers’ Comp Claims
There are key differences between workers’ comp claims for black lung disease and workplace injuries. But let’s start with the similarities.
As with other claims, you may be entitled to temporary total disability, temporary partial disability, lifetime medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation, and a lump sum workers compensation settlement for black lung.
You may also be entitled to permanent partial disability payments for coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. These benefits are payable as follows:
- For first stage coal worker’s pneumoconiosis: Up to 50 weeks of wage loss benefits, even when there is no present impairment for work
- For second stage coal worker’s pneumoconiosis: Up to 100 weeks of wage loss benefits, even when there is no present impairment for work
- For third stage coal worker’s pneumoconiosis: Up to 300 weeks of wage loss benefits even when there is no apparent impairment for work
When a coal worker is diagnosed with black lung that involves progressive massive fibrosis, or when it is accompanied by sufficient pulmonary function loss to render the coal worker totally unable to do manual labor in a dusty environment, then he or she is deemed to have a permanent disability and to be entitled to wage loss benefits for the remainder of his or her life time.
Further, whenever there is a question as to whether a coal worker with pneumoconiosis is suffering from coal worker’s pneumoconiosis or from some other type of pneumoconiosis such as silicosis, the Workers’ Compensation Act presumes that he is suffering from coal worker’s pneumoconiosis.
Death Benefits for Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis
Surviving spouses and dependents are entitled to compensation if a worker dies dues to black lung.
Federal Disability Benefits for Black Lung
Your Workers’ Comp Attorney for Black Lung & Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis Claims
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with black lung, we are here to help you get the help you need and deserve. Call, text, or email us today for a free strategy session regarding your right to Virginia workers’ compensation for black lung disease. Special provisions apply, so you need an attorney familiar with coal worker’s pneumoconiosis claims. And as your disability lawyer, we’ll help you obtain compensation through all available state and federal black lung programs.