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US Department of Labor makes decisions on Peabody cases

In its third-quarter report, which was released Oct. 26, Peabody said it reached a $72 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor for legacy black lung claims.

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GILLETTE, Wyo. — In its third-quarter report, which was released Oct. 26, Peabody said it reached a $72 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor for legacy black lung claims.

Under the Black Lung Benefits Act, coal miners who are totally disabled by black lung disease, or pneumoconiosis, from working in or around coal mines can receive monthly payments and medical benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Dependent survivors are eligible if they can prove pneumoconiosis was a substantially contributing cause of the miner’s death. An amendment in 1972 noted that if a miner was employed for at least 15 years in underground mines and had a totally disabling respiratory or pulmonary impairment, it was found likely that the miner’s total disability or death was due to pneumoconiosis. The law was later expanded to include mines that present similar conditions as underground mines for claims filed after 2004 and pending on or after March 23, 2010.

U.S. Department of Labor Office of Public Affairs Western Regional Director Mike Petersen said the department’s decisions in July included settlements on cases including Lawrence D. Stewart v. Pine Ridge Coal Co., c/o Peabody Energy Corp; Kathryn Knight v. Peabody Coal Company; and Charles F. Swan v. Heritage Coal Co., c/o Peabody Energy Corp.

Stewart’s and Swan’s last coal mine employment was in West Virginia and Indiana, respectively. Knight’s late husband, Herman Knight, had worked in Kentucky.

A Wyoming worker, Douglas Dan Stinnette, was the claimant against Peabody Powder River Mining in a settlement decision the department made in June.

Administrative Law Judge Richard Clark decided to deny Stinnette’s May 2016 claim to benefits because although Stinnette worked the required 15 years in surface coal mining in conditions similar to those of an underground coal mining and developed totally disabling respiratory or pulmonary impairment, Peabody Powder River Mining determined Stinnette did not have pneumoconiosis.

Stinnette appealed. Peabody Powder River Mining argued Clark was wrong to find that Stinnette had the required years of employment and total disability. Stinnette said he was a heavy equipment operator — alternating mostly between a shovel operator and an oiler — at a strip mine from 1992 to 2015.

Among other considerations, Clark had found that Stinnette was regularly exposed to coal mine dust, while Peabody Powder River Mining disputed that exposure.

Three U.S. Department of Labor Benefits Review Board chief administrative appeals judges said in their ruling that Clark needs to reconsider whether Peabody Powder River Mining successfully rebutted Stinnette’s claim that he has pneumoconiosis. If that is the case, Clark can reinstate denying the benefits. Otherwise, Clark must determine whether the company established that no part of Stinnette’s respiratory disability is from pneumoconiosis.

Peabody and the lawyer listed as Stinnette’s attorney have not responded to an Oct. 31 request for update and comment on the case. Peabody has not responded to a request for clarification on the $72 million settlement, how the claims are “disputed” and what rules the U.S. Department of Labor has proposed that Peabody was “able to avoid.” According to a LinkedIn profile for a Stinnette in Evansville, Wyoming, he worked at NARM before retiring.

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