The new session of the Kentucky General Assembly may have to tackle the sticky problem of black-lung benefits for workers’ compensation. That is because the Kentucky Supreme Court provided a gift for Kentucky coal miners just before the holidays. The high court scrapped the system of black-lung screenings for workers’ compensation benefits that had been in place since 1996. Those screenings had drastically reduced the number of black-lung claims. In fact only about 300 coal miners have received black-lung comp benefits since 2002.
In Vision Mining v. Gardner, the Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the special system of screenings for coal miners violates the equal protection provision of the Kentucky Constitution. Only coal miners are required to see a panel of three doctors to prove they have the lung disease otherwise known as pneumoconiosis. All other workers are required to have only one doctor confirm they have an occupational disease or injury. In addition, workers who develop pneumoconiosis from other industries only need one doctor to confirm their disease in order to proceed with a claim.
Thus, if the General Assembly wants to re-establish more stringent procedures for black-lung benefits, it will have to act more evenhandedly. The 1996 changes in the black-lung law contributed to a significant reduction in Kentucky comp claims. In fact, claims dropped 60 percent from just between 1993-94 and 2008-09.Back to news