Boston Workers’ compensation lawyers recognize some on-the-job injuries do not become apparent until much later in one’s life. If a work-related injury becomes apparent after one’s employment has been terminated, he or she may still be entitled to benefits. There may, however, be more work required to prove worker was injured on the job.
Central OH Coal Co. v. Dir., Office of Workers’ Comp. Programs involved an employee who worked at an above-ground coalmine from 1945 until he was laid off in 1999. While he never worked underground, he held many different jobs at above-ground strip mines, including as a heavy equipment operator.
There is no doubt that he was exposed to coal dust on a daily basis at the same levels that he would have been at an underground mine. In 1995, he was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is also known by coalminers as “black lung.” He had also been a smoker for nearly 40 years, consuming more than a pack each day. The administrative law judge (ALJ) at his workers’ compensation hearing estimated that he smoked the equivalent of 57 “pack years” of cigarettes based, on the amount he smoked.
In 2001, he applied to get his job back, but was not hired because he couldn’t pass the required physical exam. The company believed that, even with his oxygen tank, he could not withstand the harsh environment of working at a coal mine.
Since he could not longer work, he filed for workers’ compensation benefits. His employer denied his claim, alleging his COPD was the result of his excessive smoking for all of those years – not from coal dust.
By statute and Department of Labor (DOL) regulations, the worker was entitled to a presumption that his COPD was black lung caused by exposure to coal dust because he had worked at an above-ground mine for more than 15 years.
The company then tried to counter by putting on the testimony of three doctors who had examined the worker. Those three doctors offered the opinion that the COPD was caused by smoking and not coal dust inhalation. Two other doctors testified that the coal dust was largely responsible for his illness. Alternatively, those physicians asserted if coal dust wasn’t the only cause, it definitely made the condition worse.
There was no question that he was injured. The dispute was over whether he was injured on the job or whether his long history of smoking many cigarettes a day had caused the COPD.
The ALJ determined that the DOL regulations established that more than 15 years of exposure to coal dust in above-ground mines could cause black lung as matter law. It did not matter that the doctors’ opinions said that it did not. Even if the doctors’ opinions were correct, the law still controlled. The ALJ found that the worker was injured on-the-job and thus entitled to benefits.
If you are injured on the job in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim: 1-888-367-2900.
Central OH Coal Co. v. Dir., Office of Workers’ Comp. Programs, August 6, 2014, California Court of Appeals
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