Federal worker safety regulations require coal miners and workers to be provided personal protective equipment, including dust masks that meet applicable safety standards for protection against coal dust. Breathing in coal dust can cause black lung, an incurable disease that impairs breathing and often leads to premature death. However, evidence continues to demonstrate that several manufacturers’ coal dust masks sold for years as compliant with NIOSH standards are, in fact, defective.
If you are a Kentucky coal miner who has been diagnosed with black lung, lung cancer, or another respiratory disease caused by coal mine dust, it may have been caused by the use of a faulty respirator mask in and around your workplace. You may be able to obtain compensation through a product liability claim to assist you with medical expenses and compensate you and your family for other losses.
The product liability lawyers of Morgan, Collins, Yeast & Salyer have helped clients across Kentucky pursue full compensation for serious injuries caused by faulty and dangerous products. Our law firm has the experience, the resources, and the Kentucky Courage to take on giant manufacturers on behalf of everyday Kentuckians like you.
Contact our attorneys online today or phone (877) 809-5352 to set up a free consultation. We will review your claim at no charge and explain your legal options.
Understanding the Issue of Faulty Coal Mine Dust Masks
Commonly encountered dust, mists, and fumes in coal mining include coal dust, responsible for black lung disease. Coal mine dust also includes crystalline silica and inhalable particles released from rock that can cause damage to the lungs and pulmonary fibrosis. Other potentially hazardous exposures include diesel exhaust, coal tar pitch volatiles from creosote-treated timbers, and polyurethane resins used in some roof support systems. For each, there are established exposure standards developed by federal agencies and safety and health organizations to prevent adverse health effects from workplace exposures.
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations require that mine operators make available to miners NIOSH-approved respirators when any area is found to exceed the applicable inhalable dust standard. The respirators must be suitable for use in the type and concentrations of dust present in the subject area.
Mine operators are required to fit-test mine workers to ensure they receive respirators that fit their faces and to provide training in the proper use and maintenance of respirators.
Mine operators also are required to use environmental controls, such as ventilation fans and water sprays, to reduce the level of coal dust in the air in mines.
Using personal respirators is considered the second line of defense after environmental controls in coal mines. If coal dust concentrations rise above approved levels, miners are to use respirators for a short period of time until the coal dust levels are reduced using environmental controls. Coal miners are not expected to use respirators for extended periods of time or as a substitute for environmental dust controls.
Several manufacturers produce and sell respirators that they represent as meeting NIOSH standards, including:
- Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M)
- Mine Safety Appliances
- Eastern States Mine Supply
- Fairmont Supply Company
- Persinger Supply Company
- Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply
- American Optical Corp.
- Kentucky Mine Supply Company
Unfortunately, mass production principles employed by some U.S. manufacturers call for the cheapest methods possible for designing, manufacturing, quality testing, and distributing their products for sale. This sometimes leads to products proving defective and dangerous, despite claims to the contrary.
One criticism of coal mine respirators concerns the use of a type of disposable filter known as an “electrostatic filter.” Such filters are enhanced with an electrostatic charge to help capture dust particles, but the charge can degrade under certain conditions, rendering the filters less effective. At various times, the MSHA and NIOSH have questioned their effectiveness.
In 2018, a Knott County jury awarded $67.5 million in damages to two former coal miners who claimed defective dust masks manufactured by 3M led to their debilitating black lung disease.
In 2016, a jury awarded another Kentucky coal miner $7.2 million in a similar product liability lawsuit against Mine Safety Appliances. That lawsuit originally included mask manufacturer American Optical, which reached a confidential settlement with the plaintiff before trial.
Undoubtedly, many other Kentucky coal miners have suffered and continue to suffer from black lung disease (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis) because of defective coal mine respirator masks. A 2018 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) said 1 in 5 underground coal miners who have worked in Kentucky mines for at least 25 years showed “evidence” of having black lung disease.
The attorneys at Morgan, Collins, Yeast & Salyer are reviewing claims involving defective coal miner dust masks.
What is Black Lung and What Are Its Symptoms?
Black lung disease, or coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is a pulmonary disease caused by inhalation of coal dust. Inhaling coal dust can cause scarring in the lungs, which impairs the ability to breathe. Black lung disease is characterized by inflammation, coughing, and fibrosis, which is the thickening or scarring of lung tissue.
Depending on the amount of scarring in the lungs, a patient may be diagnosed with simple pneumoconiosis or complicated pneumoconiosis, also called “progressive massive fibrosis.”
In the early stages of black lung disease, a coal miner is likely to experience:
- Cough, sometimes bringing up black mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness.
As fibrosis becomes severe, low blood-oxygen levels put stress on other organs, such as the heart and brain. Symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath, particularly during physical activity
- Dry, hacking cough
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Gradual unintended weight loss
- Aching joints and muscles
- Widening and rounding of the tips of the fingers or toes.
There is no cure for coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, but treatment can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
In the early stages of black lung disease, a coal miner may be prescribed medication and breathing treatments to help open airways and decrease inflammation. Doctors may also suggest pulmonary rehabilitation, an exercise designed to help patients with chronic lung conditions stay active and breathe deeper.
A coal miner in the later stages of black lung may need supplemental oxygen. If he is receiving proper medical care, he will undergo regular testing to measure lung function, as well as chest X-rays to monitor the progression of his illness and look for signs of lung cancer.
How Kentucky Courage Can Help You
Kentucky law allows people to pursue product liability lawsuits for any personal injury or wrongful death “caused by or resulting from the manufacture, construction, design, assembly, marketing, packaging, or labeling of any product.”
Manufacturers of dust masks have a legal responsibility to design and manufacture products that are safe and effective when used correctly. Product liability laws allow consumers to hold manufacturers responsible when a product causes harm due to a defect that they knew or should have known existed but did not adequately warn the public about.
A product liability claim in Kentucky must demonstrate that the:
- Defect in design or manufacturing of the product caused or allowed the plaintiff’s injuries, death or property damage
- Design, methods of manufacture, and testing did not conform to the generally recognized and prevailing standards or the state of the art in existence at the time the design was prepared and the product was manufactured
- Plaintiff did not substantially modify the product and used the product as it was meant to be used and with ordinary care in the circumstances of its use.
Kentucky law protects the defendant from liability if the injury (e.g., diagnosis of black lung disease), death, or property damage occurred either more than five years after the date of sale of the product to the first consumer or more than eight years after the date of manufacture.
An experienced defective product attorney from Morgan, Collins, Yeast & Salyer can help you by:
- Thoroughly investigating your case
- Collecting evidence, such as medical records, company records of respirator acquisition, witness testimony, and information from related cases
- Working with expert consultants who can provide evidence to help support your claim
- Negotiating with the other party’s legal team and insurance company for a fair settlement offer
- Vigorously fighting for you in court if necessary to seek full compensation for you.
Many product liability claims are resolved outside of court with a negotiated settlement. When there are multiple similar product liability lawsuits against a firm, as there are against 3M, the company is more likely to settle. Especially after a few lawsuits result in multi-million-dollar verdicts against the firm, a company may even put funds aside in anticipation of settling cases combined as a class action lawsuit or multi-district litigation.
Talk To Our Kentucky Product Liability Lawyers Now
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with black lung disease despite regularly using an approved respirator mask in coal mine work, please contact the skilled product liability lawyers at Morgan, Collins, Yeast & Salyer. We may be able to pursue compensation for you and your family through a product liability claim.
We have law offices across Kentucky and a dedicated team of lawyers with decades of experience. Our team has the resources and skills to tackle the toughest cases against the largest corporations. Put our Kentucky Courage to work for you. Contact us now at (877) 809-5352 to set up a free consultation.