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Navistar, Inc. v. Forester: Workers’ Compensation for Black Lung Disease

Navistar, Inc. v. Forester, an appeal heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, involved a claimant who was employed at a coalmine from 1970 to 1975. His job responsibilities included being a safety inspector, dust sampler, and underground foreman. After leaving the company in 1975, he became a federal coalmine inspector until 1991.

industrialsmokestack.jpgIn 1991, he stopped working in the mines due a knee injury. The following year, he was found to be totally disabled due to respiratory problems. In 2008, after receiving workers’ compensation benefits for years from the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act (FECA), he applied for benefits from the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA) fund. Throughout out his time on the job, he was constantly exposed to coal dust.

According to court records, filing a BLBA claim should not preclude him from continuing to receive workers’ compensation benefits from FECA. However, any BLBA award would need to be offset by the amount received from BLBA.

When he filed his claim, the examiner at the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs denied his claim. The reason for denying the claim was that claimant had failed to establish sufficient evidence that he was totally disabled due to pneumoconiosis (Black Lung Disease).

Our Boston attorneys represent clients who suffer on-the-job injuries. We know, once a claim is initially denied, claimants must request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).

At the hearing, the parties stipulated that claimant had worked in the coalmines for 17 years. A stipulation is an agreement between the parties that something is true as a matter of fact or matter of law, and they are not going to argue about that particular point. Despite the stipulation agreement, the company decided to argue that the stipulation was ineffective. The reason for this was that it claimed that the years when he worked in the coalmine qualified, but not time spent working as a federal inspector. This was important, because, if a claimant has 15 years of coalmine experience, there is a presumption that he qualifies for BLBA workers’ compensation benefits.

The ALJ agreed with claimant’s position and found that he was eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The company appealed this decision to the board, which affirmed the ALJ’s award of benefits. The company then appealed the case to the federal appellate court.

On appeal, the court was only concerned with whether the stipulation that claimant had worked for 17 years in coalmines was legally enforceable. The court found that whether or not the stipulation was factually enforceable against the company, it would be legally enforceable. This meant that it was now an indisputable fact that claimant had worked in the mines for 17 years. Neither party could challenge that fact. However, the stipulation did not affect whether those 17 years counted towards the 15-year presumption in the statue.

Based upon federal law, federal mine inspectors are not considered miners for the purpose of the BLBA statute. For this reason, the court reversed and remanded the ALJ’s decision for further proceedings to determine if he qualified for benefits without the 15-year presumption.

If you are injured on the job in Boston, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim:
1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
Navistar, Inc. v. Forester, September 12, 2014, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca6/13-3994/13-3994-2014-09-12.pdf

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