CHARLESTON – An Upper Big Branch Mine worker who assisted with the rescue effort following the fatal 2010 explosion is entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

On Sept. 10, the court issued a memorandum decision that granted Scott Halstead’s Workers’ Comp claim. Halstead worked at Upper Big Branch in April 2010, when an explosion killed 29 miners.

Performance Coal, then a subsidiary of Massey Energy, operated the mine and was appealing a 2011 decision by the Workers’ Compensation Board of Review.

Decisions by the court and the Board of Review overturned one by the Office of Judges.

“The Office of Judges erred in determining this claim was not for a physical injury, but only for emotional and psychiatric effects on Mr. Halstead,” the decision says.

Halstead alleged he was exposed to hazardous dust and toxic gas during the rescue effort, though Performance Coal alleged his symptoms were preexisting and unrelated.

Halstead also alleged that the Office of Judges erred in finding that the injury only affected him mentally and not physically.

“Mr. Halstead provided emergency room records from the date of the accident noting a clinical impression of smoke inhalation and hypoxia, and medical records showing that he continues to have shortness of breath, dizziness, difficulty sleeping and changes in emotional state,” the decision says.

Chief Justice Brent Benjamin disqualified himself from the case. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that Benjamin should have recused himself in a case against Massey because then-CEO Don Blankenship spent several million dollars supporting his 2004 campaign.

The other four justices were unanimous in the decision.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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