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More judges needed to handle coal miner compensation claims

Those who work in the coal mining industry experience unique risks that those in other industries do not face. One of these risks is that of developing a condition called "black lung disease," which is a generic name for any lung disease stemming from inhalation of coal dust. The condition involves symptoms of coughing, airway obstruction and shortness of breath, and it is incurable.

This condition affects many in Pennsylvania, which is currently under a significant burden in terms of handling compensation claims. This is especially the case since many coal miners and their widows have come to discover that there have been many cases of misdiagnosis of the condition, and hence improper denial of benefits.

The compensation is available under the Black Lung Benefits Act, which is administered by the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs. According to the state Deputy Labor Secretary, three more administrative law judges are needed to help cut down the backlog of cases filed by miners and their widows after the problem became known. A total of $2.72 is being sought to fund the increase in judges to working on such cases.

At present there are only two judges who hear black lung cases. That isn't enough. As it is, claimants have to wait 429 days, on average, for their case to actually be assigned to a judge. After that, it is often three or four more months before there are any court hearings. The backlog is currently at 2,866 and many more cases are expected to be filed by the end of the year.

Work-related injuries and illness can seriously impact individuals' activity and well-being. When it comes to seeking compensation, it is important to work with an experienced attorney who can provide the advocacy needed to ensure a good outcome in one's case.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "More Pennsylvania judges sought for black lung cases," Tracie Maureiello, July 22, 2014.

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