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It didn’t matter that a miner smoked a pack a day for 40 years.

A federal appeals court recently upheld an administrative law judge’s ruling that the surface miner is eligible for federal benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act.

The case of

R.F.I. Energy Inc. vs. Director, Office of Workers Compensation Programs hinged on whether an administrative law judge’s award of benefits to miner David C. Elliott should stand.

The judge awarded Mr. Elliot benefits after hearing three doctors’ opinions, including two physicians who argued the miner’s impairment was caused by smoking and coal dust.

Although all three doctors agreed the miner suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was totally disabled, the third doctor argued that only smoking caused the ailment.

The judge accepted the opinion of one of the doctors who argued that coal mine exposure caused “legal pneumoconiosis” which contributed to COPD.

Regulations define legal pneumoconiosis as “any chronic lung disease or impairment arising out of coal-mine employment, the court opinion states.

A U.S. Department of Labor Benefits Review Board agreed with the judge’s finding.

Recovering benefits under the BLBA requires a claimant to establish that they suffer from pneumoconiosis, that it arose from coal- mine employment; and that it caused total disability.

Furthermore, if pneumoconiosis arising out of a coal miner’s employment is a substantially contributing cause of pulmonary impairment then the miner will be considered totally disabled on account of pneumoconiosis, rendering him eligible for benefits.

RFI appealed the review board’s ruling.

But the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals court denied the employer’s petition for review. It determined that the administrative law judge’s ruling was supported by substantial evidence and was consistent with applicable legal principles.

You would think there would be at least an offset for smoking.