A week and a half ago, the Charleston Gazette-Mail ran a well-done article about Ted Latusek, a West Virginia coal miner whose struggle for black lung benefits was a feature of the Pulitzer-Prize winning series Breathless and Burdened by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News.
The recent article, by David Gutman, provides an update about Mr. Latusek’s difficult pursuit of benefits. During this 21-year pursuit, Mr. Latusek has been the subject of a lung transplant.
At the time of the Breathless and Burdened stories, Mr. Latusek’s claim had been the subject of 12 different decisions. In the past two years, the count has gone up to 14—with more appearing to come.
Gutman’s article quotes Mr. Latusek: “It’s been a struggle. It’s been frustrating just to deal with them,” Latusek said. “I’m not the only one, there’s thousands of cases like mine.”
The article also discusses the risk of overpayment liability if Mr. Latusek were to lose his claim or give up and the fact that his attorney has not been able to receive any payment over her 21 years of representation of Mr. Latusek.
If he were to quit the court battle or lose the case, he said, he would be expected to pay back 21 years of benefits, somewhere in the neighborhood of $230,000.
Since he began his fight for benefits in 1994, Latusek has been represented by Sue Ann Howard, a Wheeling lawyer. Should he ultimately win his case, Consol would have to pay Howard for 21 years of legal fees. To date, she has not received a dime in fees.
“I want to win this as much for her as I do for me,” Latusek said.
The February 2015 ALJ decision awarding benefits on remand is available here. It appears from the article that in March the Benefits Review Board rejected the company’s argument that the case was remanded to the wrong judge, but that the merits decision is still pending before the Board.