There are both federal and state laws that allow someone with black lung to obtain benefits. A coal mine worker in a recent case had gone the federal route and filed a claim with the U.S. Department of Labor. He was denied benefits. Next, he filed a claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission under the Illinois law that allows for benefits. This time, he won benefits.
The main issue in this case became whether he was allowed to try again after losing the first time. It brings up the legal concept of collateral estoppel, which basically says that if there is a final decision on an issue, you don’t get a do-over. In the federal claim, the decision maker said miner did not have black-lung disease. So was he permitted to then go through the workers’ compensation commission in Illinois and ask them to determine whether he had the disease?
The case turned out in the miner’s favor. Collateral estoppel only applies if there is that final decision. The appellate court who finally settled the issue said that the federal decision (that he did not have black lung) was too informal and that the nature of the federal process limits the evidence a worker is allowed to present. Because of these limitations, the appellate court said that the decision was not a “final adjudication” of the issue.
The final outcome in the case was that the worker’s Illinois claim was perfectly legal and he was allowed to keep the benefits he was awarded in that claim. All this procedural stuff can be confusing. The main thing to take away from this that if you had a federal claim that was denied, you still might have a valid state claim for benefits. So if you are a coal miner or any other worker that has black lung disease, make sure that you explore all of your options, including workers’ compensation benefits. We have, through our state wide network, helped many coal miners in the past and would be happy to help you.
We are workers' compensation attorneys who help people with Illinois work injuries anywhere in IL via our statewide network of attorneys. Contact us and we will answer your questions or find the right lawyer for your situation.