Majority of Miners and Widows Not Represented Before Benefits Review Board in June 2014

In June 2014, most miners and widows were unrepresented before the Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board (the Department’s appellate body which reviews the decisions of Administrative Law Judges in federal black lung benefits cases).

The Board decided 26 black lung cases in June (list of cases here).  Of these 26, only 11 (42%) included briefs filed on behalf of the miner or widow.

It is common knowledge that many miners and widows have to work their way through the federal black lung benefits system without a lawyer or lay representative, but it is striking that last month in 58% of appellate cases, no one filed a brief on behalf of the claimant.

The vast majority of these cases were awards of benefits that were being appealed by the coal company responsible for payment.  In most cases, the Board affirmed the award, but three cases resulted in an award being vacated.

There is no practical way short of reviewing the records in each case to know whether an experienced representative would have made a difference, but it is worrisome that awards of benefits to miners and widows (issued by administrative law judges after formal adjudications) are being vacated without someone to represent the claimants’ interests.

It is not clear whether June is an outlier or this is a sign of things to come.  To use May 2014 as a comparison, in May the Board decided 29 cases, in which 18 (62%) included a brief filed on behalf of the claimant.  June is thus higher, but in both months a significant number of claimants are proceeding without representation.

This is an issue worth looking into further so that we can understand why the legal needs of these claimants are being underserved and what could be done to make sure that miners and widows are treated fairly in the black lung system.

We invite your comments below to start a conversation about this data and what should be done.

2 Responses to “Majority of Miners and Widows Not Represented Before Benefits Review Board in June 2014”

  1. Deborah L. Wilson

    I am the daughter of a deceased coal miner and I am trying to assist my mother with her Widow’s claim for Black Lung. My father was awarded Black Lung on three (3) different instances and the company appealed and he lost the benefits. He died fighting to get his benefits back. I helped my mother file a Widows Claim with little or no assistance from our attorney. We received some communications from the Department of Labor, to which I had to reply because the attorney failed to respond. Now……my mothers claim has been denied. We are left to wonder what the next step is????
    I have heard horror stories of miners waiting and wondering and widows waiting and wondering. I have sat in the lawyers office with my mother and heard the same thing from numerous miners and families: no help, no results, NO HOPE.
    I reflect on all the suffering I saw growing up as a coal miners daughter. Dad was never home……always double and triple shifts to get that next load of coal. So the bosses could get the BIG bonus. Birthdays missed, Christmas working, no family trips cause dad had to work. Later, I watched him suffer to get a breath. He couldn’t even mow their yard.
    Lack of representation is at a critical stage. I don’t know what can be done, but I’ve often wished that I had selected an alternate field for a career. I would have been a lawyer specializing in Black Lung Cases. Probably would be broke, but If I could have helped a few families have HOPE…….It would have been worth it.
    I am currently seeking an alternate attorney to appeal my mothers denied clam but NO lawyer wants to take it on………so now what do I do?

    Deborah

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    contact Joseph Wolfe in Virginia. He may be able to help you. His number is 1800-446-0167. Good luck and God bless.

    Reply

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