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If you have black lung disease or Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis, you may be eligible for disability benefits. Black lung disease can be seen on chest x-ray and CT scans. If you have black lung disease, your chest x-ray or CT scan will show pulmonary nodules in your lungs. If you have other breathing impairments, like asthma, COPD, or hypoxemia, you could have legal pneumoconiosis. This may make you eligible to receive disability benefits.


If you have legal pneumoconiosis, the defendant (usually the insurance company for the coal mine) must rebut the presumption that you are not disabled. This is difficult to do.  It is difficult because legal pneumoconiosis by definition arises from exposure to dust in coal mining employment. However, rebuttal may be shown in two ways.  The first way requires the liable party to establish that the miner has neither clinical pneumoconiosis arising out of coal mine employment nor legal pneumoconiosis. 20 C.F.R. § 718.305(d)(1)(i).


The second method requires the liable party to prove that “no part of the miner’s respiratory or pulmonary total disability” stems from  pneumoconiosis. 20 C.F.R. § 718.305(d)(2)(ii). This is frequently called the “rule-out standard.” See Antelope Coal Co./Rio Tinto Energy Am. v. Goodin, 743 F.3d 1331, 1336 (10th Cir. 2014). 

In Antelope Coal Co. v. Goodin, 743 F.3d 1331, 1336 (10th Cir. 2014), the 10th Circuit  found that Antelope had “not rebutted the presumption by showing [Mr. Goodin’s] pneumoconiosis did not arise out of his coal mine employment as the definition of legal pneumoconiosis subsumes that finding.” Appx., Vol. II at 283. Because, (1) the ALJ found that the claimant has legal pneumoconiosis, which Antelope failed to rebut; (2) legal pneumoconiosis by definition arises from exposure to dust in coal mining employment; and (3) the doctor concluded that the claimant’s total disability resulted in part from coal dust exposure, Antelope failed to rule out any connection between Mr. Goodin’s pneumoconiosis and his total disability.20


What does this mean for a coal miner with black lung disease? If you prove you have CWP that meets disabling criteria you have proven disability under the Black Lung regulations. You may have another breathing impairment that is made worse by coal dust. If so, you are on your way to proving you cannot work in the coal mine. Show that your breathing impairment prevents you from returning to the coal mine and then the burden of proof shifts to the insurance company. The insurance company has a high burden of proof. They must rule out any connection between your black lung disease and your total disability.

The fact that the burden of proof is on the insurance company is good news for the claimant. Because, it shows you can demonstrate that you have CWP. Therefore, if you have legal pneumoconiosis and a lengthy coal mine work history, your chances of winning disability benefits are high.

If you have black lung disease and you can no longer work, contact Cannon Disability Law. We will review your case for free. Often, we can tell you over the phone if you are eligible to apply for black lung benefits or Social Security Disability benefits. You can call us and we will answer your questions for free. Or, you can contact us on this website and we will see if we can help you with your claim for disability benefits.

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