CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court has upheld a Workers’ Compensation Board of Review decision denying Workers’ Compensation benefits to the widow of a coal miner who died of respiratory disease.
The unanimous Court issued the memorandum opinion on Feb. 20.
“Daniel Carl Smith worked as a coal miner for Maptona, Inc. and Divita Coal Company. He passed away at home on April 11, 2007. An autopsy was performed, but was limited to the lungs,” according to the opinion.
Jacqueline Smith, the deceased’s widow, applied for dependent’s benefits and was denied by the claims administrator on Feb. 28, 2008.
Holding that occupational pneumoconiosis did not materially contribute to Daniel Smith’s death, the Office of Judges affirmed the order of the claims administrator. Jacqueline Smith disputed that finding, arguing that several doctors had found that occupational pneumoconiosis materially contributed to her husband’s death.
Another physician opined that a definitive determination of the cause of death could not be found based on the autopsy because the post-mortem exam was restricted to the lungs. He noted, however, that no lesions of “coal worker’s pneumoconiosis” were observed.
The Occupational Pneumoconiosis Board concluded that occupational pneumoconiosis was not a contributing factor in Smith’s death.
“In affirming the claims administrator’s Order, the Office of Judges found that the testimony and conclusions of the Occupational Pneumoconiosis Board were persuasive in that occupational pneumoconiosis was not a material contributing factor in Mr. Smith’s death,” the opinion states.
“The Office of Judges noted that the testimony of Dr. Kinder indicated that there was evidence of a one to two pack per day smoking habit, that the information related to the decedent’s death was unclear, and that the autopsy was limited.
“The Office of Judges concluded that occupational pneumoconiosis did not materially contribute to the decedent’s death, and therefore Ms. Smith was not entitled to dependent’s benefits. The Board of Review reached the same reasoned conclusions in its decision of April 26, 2011.
“We agree with the reasoning and conclusions of the Board of Review. . . we find that the decision of the Board of Review is not in clear violation of any constitutional or statutory provision, nor is it clearly the result of erroneous conclusions of law, nor is it based upon a material misstatement or mischaracterization of the evidentiary record.
“Therefore, the decision of the Board of Review is affirmed.”