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Black lung, survivor benefits to coal miner’s widow upheld

Black lung, survivor benefits to coal miner’s widow upheld

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied an appeal by Zurich American Insurance Group to review a benefit award given to the widow of a deceased coal miner.

Raymond Duncan, a long-term resident of Middlesboro, Kentucky, who was a nonsmoker, worked in the coal mining industry for over 20 years and developed severe respiratory issues, according to the ruling in Zurich American Insurance Group v. Joanna Duncan; Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, U.S. Department of Labor released Thursday. His last job in the coal industry was as a heavy-equipment operator and electrician for Straight Creek Coal Resources at a coal preparation plant from 1998 to 1999.

Mr. Duncan filed a claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act but died while his claim was still pending. His claim was consolidated with a claim for survivor’s benefits submitted by his widow, Joanna Duncan. The administrative law judge awarded benefits to Ms. Duncan, both on Mr. Duncan’s behalf and as his surviving spouse.

The Benefits Review Board affirmed the award and Zurich, the insurer of Straight Creek Coal Resources, petitioned the appellate court to review the award — a petition denied by the court.

“The ALJ’s decision to award benefits to Raymond (Duncan) is supported by substantial evidence,” the court said in its ruling. “Raymond (Duncan) timely filed his claim within three years of learning that he was totally disabled due to pneumoconiosis. He then established his entitlement to benefits by invoking the fifteen-year presumption (in the applicable statute). Zurich American failed to rebut this presumption.”

A Zurich spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

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