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Federal Court in East Tennessee Orders Coal Company to Pay 20% “Additional Compensation” Due to Failure to Make Timely Payments in Black Lung Case

Since so many defendants are prone to protracting litigation in an attempt to avoid liability, or at least put off the inevitability of a judgment for the plaintiff, there are sometimes provisions in the law that require defendants to pay more than the judgment eventually entered by the court.

Depending upon the case and the applicable law, this can include both pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, as well as outright penalties and, in a recent black lung case, “additional compensation” of up to 20%.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal case, the plaintiff was a woman whose late husband worked for the defendant coal company in Campbell and Anderson Counties. In 2010, the husband filed a claim under the Black Lung Benefits Act. The Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Program found that the husband was entitled to black lung benefits, but the coal company sought a formal hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).

A hearing was held in 2013, and the ALJ awarded benefits to the husband dating back to the filing of his claim. The coal company appealed the ALJ’s award to the Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board, which affirmed the ALJ’s decision in the husband’s favor. The United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals also affirmed the ALJ’s determination after the husband passed away in 2015.

The plaintiff filed suit against the coal company in 2016, seeking 20% additional compensation on benefits that she alleged the coal company did not pay in a timely fashion. Thereafter, the plaintiff sought summary judgment.

Decision of the Court

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville granted summary judgment to the plaintiff. First, the court acknowledged that, despite the coal company’s argument to the contrary, the plaintiff did have standing to sue insofar as she had alleged that her late husband’s estate was owed 20% additional compensation due to the coal company’s failure to pay benefits in a timely fashion.

The court went on to determine that, based on the undisputed evidence, the coal company did owe the additional compensation sought by the plaintiff. Pursuant to § 725.607(b) of the Code of Federal Regulations, this was true even though the United States Department of Labor’s Black Lung Disability Trust Fund had made interim payments to the husband. In so holding, the court agreed with the plaintiff that the purpose of the additional compensation provision was to discourage employers like the coal company from shifting the risk to the Trust Fund.

The court also held that the plaintiff was entitled to interest on the additional compensation (although not on the lump-sum payment made previously or on any payments made by the Trust Fund).

Talk to a Knowledgeable East Tennessee Injury Attorney

If you have been hurt in an accident, you could be entitled to substantial damages. However, as this case shows, receiving fair compensation for what you have endured is likely to be an uphill battle. To talk about putting an experienced Knoxville personal injury attorney to work on your side of the case, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., at (865) 524-5657. Whether you have been hurt by a negligent driver or lost a loved one due to a business’ failure to provide adequate security, we will be glad to talk to you about your case.

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