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Report Details Industry's 'Cutthroat' Fight Of Miners' Claims

My investigative reporting colleague Chris Hamby at the Center for Public Integrity has a compelling and troubling follow-up to our jointly-reported series last year on the resurgence of the deadly coal miners' disease black lung.

Hamby has spent the last year investigating the system that awards compensation to miners stricken with the disease. He found that miners face a concerted industry effort to deny compensation payments, which includes industry-hired lawyers withholding evidence favorable to miners and doctors at a major university "helping to defeat the claims of sick miners."

The series "Breathless and Burdened" began Tuesday with a detailed look at the "cutthroat approach" of the industry's "go-to law firm" for fighting black lung claims. Wednesday stories on the CPI website and ABC's World News and Nightline focus on the role of doctors at one of the nation's top-ranked university hospitals in rejecting claims. Friday, Hamby's series concludes with reports on the "the latest industry effort to defuse emerging scientific evidence and contain its liabilities."

In the first installment Tuesday, Hamby writes that "the role of lawyers in orchestrating sophisticated legal strategies to defeat claims for benefits is just the first chapter in the story of a system in which well-paid specialists thrive as miners struggle..."

In a "behind the story" sidebar, Hamby says, "it is difficult to imagine someone more voiceless or whose suffering is more silent than the Appalachian coal miner."

He found that black lung victims and their advocates had a widespread sense "that the deck was stacked against them. Many simply stopped bothering with what they considered a system gone horribly awry."

The reports are exhaustive, drawing on legal documents, hundreds of thousands of pages of medical records, and spreadsheets Hamby created to track and analyze thousands of cases.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.