Coal Miner’s Smoking Habit Doesn’t Bar Benefit Claim

Coal miner’s smoking habit doesn’t bar benefit claim.

Case name: Miller v. Consolidation Coal Co., 15 ILWCLB 258 (Ill. W.C. Comm 2007).

Ruling: The Commission awarded benefits, holding that the claimant met his burden in proving that his current condition of chronic bronchitis was related to his exposure to coal dust, rock dust and welding fumes at the defendant’s mine over the course of 32 years. The Commission found that the claimant’s condition warranted a permanent disability award under Section 8(d)2 for 5 percent disability to the body was a whole.

What it means: A claimant’s history of cigarette smoking will not necessarily block an award of benefits for a chronic lung condition, when medical testimony convincingly establishes that the claimant was exposed over a long period to irritants at work and such exposure contributed to the claimant’s condition.

Summary: The claimant, a 56 year old retired coal miner, had worked in the defendant’s coal mines for 32 years. Most of his work was underground, where he was exposed to coal and rock dust on a daily basis. During the last four years of his employment, he reported a productive cough. He filed a claim alleging that he had a chronic lung condition attributable to his long-time exposure to irritants in the coal mine. In awarding benefits, the arbitrator noted that the evidence established that the claimant was exposed to coal dust, rock dust and welding fumes on a daily basis. The arbitrator further noted that approximately four years prior to his retirement, the claimant was experiencing symptoms of productive cough with sputum, wheezing and shortness of breath. The claimant’s doctor and the defendant’s examiner diagnosed the claimant with chronic bronchitis. The claimant told his doctor that his bronchitis had gotten somewhat better since leaving the mine environment but had not gone away. The medical evidence submitted by the claimant sufficiently established exposure to coal and rock dust for 32 years in the defendant’s mine and disablement related to such exposure in the form of chronic bronchitis. Furthermore, the arbitrator rejected the defendant’s argument supported by the testimony of its examining doctor, that the claimant’s cigarette smoking was the sole contributing cause of the claimant’s condition. Rather, the arbitrator relied on the testimony of the claimants’ doctor who opined that the claimant’s chronic bronchitis was due to a combination of his exposure to coal dust, rock dust and welding fumes along with cigarette smoking. Upon review the Commission affirmed and adopted the decision of the arbitrator.

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