Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Supreme Court's black lung ruling could make it easier for others to get benefits

"The U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of a major coal company’s appeal of the award of federal black lung benefits to a Kentucky widow is expected to make the pursuit of the benefits less of a struggle for many," reports The Mountain Eagle in Eastern Kentucky. "The Supreme Court denied Peabody Coal’s appeal of the award of black lung benefits to Eva Elizabeth Hill, a widow from Drakesboro in Western Kentucky." (Best Places map: The Mountain Eagle is located in coal country in Eastern Kentucky)

Her husband, Arthur Hill, "was awarded federal black lung benefits in 1987 because after 41 years in the mines, he was disabled because of black lung," reports the Eagle. "When Mr. Hill passed away in 2000, Mrs. Hill filed for benefits but was denied because she was not able to prove that black lung caused his death. For most widows, this would have been the end of the story. But in 2010, as a part of the Affordable Care Act, Congress restored the 'automatic entitlement' provision to the Black Lung Benefits Act. Under this provision, when a miner who is receiving federal black lung benefits dies, his widow needs only to fill out a simple form to begin receiving benefits."

"In 2011, Mrs. Hill filled out that form and was awarded benefits. Since then, Peabody Coal has been challenging her award, arguing that it is unconstitutional to reconsider her entitlement to benefits because her previous denial was affirmed by a federal court," reports the Eagle. "After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed her award of benefits, Peabody Coal took the case all the way to the Supreme Court."

"The Supreme Court issued an order late last week, declining to review Mrs. Hill’s case," reports the Eagle. "This is a win for Mrs. Hill and leaves her award untouched. Unfortunately, Mrs. Hill passed away this fall, while her case was pending before the Supreme Court."

Her attorney Evan Smith of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, which provides free legal services for miners and widows seeking black lung benefits, told reporters, “Mrs. Hill’s perseverance in fighting for her widow’s benefits for over 15 years created precedent that should make the pursuit of black lung benefits less of a struggle for other widows going forward.” The Mountain Eagle is behind a two-week paywall.

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