The Survivors' 25-Year Presumption under the Black Lung Benefits Reform Act of 1977: A Case for Its Unconstitutionality
Title IV of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 [the Black Lung Act], as amended by the Black Lung Benefits Reform Act of 1977 establishes, inter alia, a new presumption intended to substantially assist widows and other dependent survivors of coal miners in gaining benefits for disability caused by coal workers' pneumoconiosis (more commonly known as black lung disease). Survivors of coal miners who died before March 1, 1978, with twenty-five or more years of coal mine employment accrued prior to July 1, 1971, are presumed to be entitled to benefits unless it is established that, at the time of his death, the miner was neither totally nor even partially disabled by the disease. The purpose of this article is to discuss the twenty-five year presumption and some of the constitutional issues which it poses. To put these considerations in perspective, this article will set out a brief overview of the provisions of the Black Lung Act and its various amendments, a brief review of the presumption's legislative history and its operation and, finally, a discussion of some constitutional infirmities of the new presumption.