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3M Coal Dust Mask Black Lung Lawsuits

Sam Taylor

Legally Reviewed By: Sam E. Taylor
Managing Attorney | Mesothelioma & Asbestos in Houston

Sam Taylor

Legally Reviewed By: Sam E. Taylor
Managing Attorney | Mesothelioma & Asbestos in Houston

We are representing clients in Kentucky and West Virginia who have developed black lung disease from coal dust after wearing defective masks manufactured by 3M and others. The defendants knew for decades that the masks failed to protect coal workers from irreversible lung disease. However, they continued to manufacture the products, marketing them as safe and effective.

Our product liability lawyers at the Lanier Law Firm have been standing up to powerful corporations on behalf of injured individuals since 1990, and this is far from the first time we’ve seen wealthy corporations jeopardize innocent people’s health for financial gain. Kentucky juries have already found 3M liable for actual and punitive damages in black lung lawsuits, and we are confident that 3M will continue to answer for the harm it has caused coal miners and their families.

Why are Coal Miners and Their Families Filing 3M Black Lung Lawsuits?

Originally known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., 3M marketed and sold defective respirators and dust masks to coal miners. The company knew that the filtering materials in the masks were inadequate to filter out the smallest respirable particles, but it actively colluded with other manufacturers and distributors to conceal this information and promote the masks as a safe and effective product.

The lawsuits involve the following disposable dust mask models:

  • 3M 8710
  • 3M 8210
  • American Optical masks
  • Aearo masks
  • Cabot masks
  • Mining Safety Alliance’s Dustfoe series of masks

Coal miners who wore these masks experienced daily exposure to toxic microscopic dust, often for a decade or longer. They only learned about their exposure when they were diagnosed with black lung disease.

What Is Black Lung Disease?

Black lung is an interstitial lung disease characterized by the development of fibrous connective tissues—a type of scarring that occurs when the body’s immune system attempts to repair lung injuries caused by inhaled dust particles. Scarred lung tissue is stiff, making breathing difficult when large areas of the lungs are affected.

Black lung disease is also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, coal mine dust lung disease, and coal workers’ silicosis. It occurs as one of the following types:

  • Simple coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – small areas of scarring in the lungs appearing as black spots on imaging tests
  • Complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – significant scarring of large areas of the lungs that creates a black appearance throughout the lung and causes noticeable and progressive symptoms 

Complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis is also known as progressive massive fibrosis. Symptoms of black lung disease include the following:

  • A persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Black sputum

The Prognosis of Black Lung Disease

Long-term black lung disease leads to respiratory failure. It can also damage other organs, including the heart and brain, from systemic oxygen deprivation since the bloodstream does not get adequate oxygen from the damaged lungs.

Black lung disease has no cure, but you can obtain treatment to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. A black lung disease diagnosis decreases life expectancy by 12.6 years, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

How Common Is Black Lung Disease?

The American Lung Association reports that 16 percent of coal miners have black lung disease. Since 1968, more than 76,000 miners have died of it. Approximately 1,000 miners die from black lung disease every year. According to the United States Department of Labor, the highest rates of black lung disease occur in the following counties:

  • Cambria, Pennsylvania
  • McDowell, West Virginia
  • Raleigh, West Virginia
  • Pike, Kentucky
  • Logan, West Virginia

From 1970 to 2000, the incidence rate of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis declined. This decline was likely the result of safety regulations under the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. However, complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis cases have been increasing since 2000. In some regions of the country, these numbers are as high as in 1970.

Why Are More Coal Miners Getting Black Lung Disease?

The increase in black lung deaths may result from advanced mining processes that allow higher quantities of coal to be extracted in a shorter time. These processes alter the chemical structure of the dust in coal mines, increasing the silica present in the dust. This conclusion is consistent with a 2021 study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, which found higher concentrations of silica dust in the lungs of 85 miners compared to miners born between 1910 and 1930.

Silica is one of the most abundant minerals on earth. It commonly occurs in the quartz surrounding the coal in Appalachian coal mines. Silica dust is 20 times more toxic than coal dust.

Coal miners are generally aware of the dangers of silica and coal dust, so they wear masks to protect themselves. Many of the workers diagnosed with black lung wore the 3M dust masks faithfully, believing the masks were protecting them from the toxic dust particles, based on the company’s advertising.

Who Is Liable for the Defective Respirators and Dust Masks?

Any company that manufactured, marketed, distributed, or sold defective dust masks may be held liable in a coal dust mask lawsuit. The following companies have manufactured defective dust masks, marketed them as safe, and sold them to unsuspecting coal miners:

  • 3M
  • Aearo Technologies
  • American Optical Corporation
  • Cabot Corporation
  • Mine Safety Appliances Company
  • Mine Service Company
  • Kentucky Mine Supply Company
  • Marco Mine Supply, Incorporated

The Case Against the Coal Dust Mask Manufacturers and Distributors

We are co-counsel in multiple black lung lawsuits in Kentucky and West Virginia, including a case involving a coal miner who underwent a double lung transplant to treat complicated black lung disease. 

Our lawsuits are based on the theories of strict liability, negligence, and breach of implied and express warranties.

Strict Liability

The defendants manufactured, marketed, and sold defective products to coal miners and their employers, and our client experienced harm by using the products. The defendants knew or should have known their products were defective but failed to provide adequate warnings or instructions to avoid harm. 

Kentucky Mine Supply Company and Marco Mine Supply are not manufacturers, but as distributors of the products, they may still be liable. Although the Kentucky Middleman Statute exempts suppliers from liability, the law allows lawsuits against those companies that knew or should have known a product was dangerous or defective. 

We allege that the distributors knowingly sold harmful products to our client. Numerous authoritative publications have published extensive literature about the defects in the products, and the supplier defendants knew or should have known about these publications.


We allege that all the defendants were aware of the published research that proved the products would be ineffective, but they neglected to warn the public or fix the product.

The dust masks relied partly on chemicals that created an electrostatic charge to filter out dust particles. However, atmospheric conditions common in coal mines, such as heat, humidity, and chemical vapors, are known to degrade these chemicals and reduce the electrostatic charge, making the filters largely ineffective.

Authoritative published materials also showed that the masks and respirators were difficult or impossible to fit test. Without a proper fit, the mask cannot form an effective seal to keep dust particles out. We allege that the suppliers and manufacturers had a duty to study the literature and be aware of the capabilities and limitations of their products.

We allege that the defendants claimed the products were safe and effective while knowing that the products could still fail. We further allege that the defendants discovered the defects after conducting research but colluded to conceal it from the public.
We allege that the defendants violated their duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure their products were safe.

Breach of Implied Warranty

By marketing and selling their products to coal miners, the defendants implied that their products were marketable, safe, and effective when used as intended. We allege that the defendants breached their implied warranties by selling products they knew were ineffective.

Intentional Misrepresentation

We allege that the defendants fraudulently misrepresented the safety and efficacy of their products. The evidence shows they advertised their respirators as safe, effective products that protect coal miners from respirable particles. Yet they knew that the products would not hold up to the conditions typically present in coal mines, that they were likely to fail, and that coal workers could develop an irreversible, deadly lung disease from relying on the product.

We allege that these false representations were reckless and intentional. According to the complaint, the defendants had exclusive knowledge that their products could not protect workers from fine sand, rock, and coal dust in coal mines. The plaintiff and his employers could not know this. They relied on the statements in the defendants’ advertising, which turned out to be false.

The defendants’ alleged false and fraudulent statements caused the plaintiff to unknowingly inhale harmful substances that would lead to progressive, irreversible lung disease and other injuries.

Compensation for Coal Miners with

We are pursuing actual and punitive damages in our black lung lawsuits. Actual damages in a black lung lawsuit may include the following economic and non-economic damages:

  • Lost wages
  • Lost future wages
  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of society
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of bodily functions

We are also pursuing punitive damages, asserting that concealing the truth about the masks and respirators was malicious, with a willful and wanton disregard and indifference to the rights and safety of the miners. 

We are prepared to prove the defendants knew how to remedy the defect and knew that coal miners using the masks as sold would develop progressive, deadly lung diseases and other injuries. In so doing, the company prioritized profits over safety.

Wrongful Death Compensation in Black Lung Lawsuits

If you are the surviving spouse or dependent of a coal miner who died from black lung disease, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit can be substantial. Every state handles wrongful death claims differently. You may be able to recover the following wrongful death damages if your loved one died of coal miner’s pneumoconiosis:  

  • Your loved one’s funeral and burial expenses
  • Loss of your loved one’s lifetime income
  • Loss of companionship, comfort, guidance, and support
  • Your loved one’s pain and suffering
  • Your family’s grief and suffering
  • Your loved one’s medical expenses

Monthly Benefits for Coal Miners with Black Lung

You may qualify for additional financial compensation if you were diagnosed with black lung or lost a loved one to the disease. 
Worker’s compensation provides free medical care and partial wage replacement when your condition prevents you from working. Most states use the last injurious exposure rule, which means you must apply for workers’ compensation benefits through the most recent employer where you experienced exposure to coal dust.

The Social Security Administration offers Black Lung Benefits that provide monthly disability payments for miners and their widows. The amount you receive is based on Federal employee salaries and is subject to change annually. In 2024, the monthly benefit is $772.60. If you have dependents, the amount will be higher. 

If you receive workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, or state disability benefits, your Black Lung Benefits will be reduced accordingly. If you are the surviving family member of a coal miner who died of black lung, you may be eligible for death benefits through workers’ compensation or Black Lung Benefits.

Some states also provide monthly disability benefits to people with disabling conditions like black lung.

Notable Settlements and Verdicts in 3M Black Lung Lawsuits

In 2018, two coal miners won a $67.5 million jury verdict against 3M in a black lung lawsuit in Lexington, Kentucky—one of the largest civil verdicts in state history.
The judgment included $62.5 million in punitive damages. According to the verdict, the jury found an ordinarily prudent company would not have marketed or sold such an unreasonably dangerous product. 

In 2016, a coal miner in Knott County, Kentucky, won an $8 million verdict against Mining Safety Alliance. The miner believed the defendant’s dust mask protected him, but he developed black lung disease after working in coal mines for 15 years.

About the Lanier Law Firm

Mark Lanier founded our law firm in 1990 with a mission to provide honest, professional legal care to people needing serious and sound representation. Mark is known for his passion, creativity, and fearless advocacy of individuals against large corporations. 

Under his leadership, we have won more than $20 billion in settlements and verdicts for our clients, including numerous record-setting victories that have made the headlines and won us the respect and admiration of our peers. Highlights of our case results include the following:

$9 billion

verdict against Takeda and Eli Lilly in a pharmaceutical liability case

$4.85 billion

national settlement in a pharmaceutical liability case

$4.69 billion

verdict against Johnson & Johnson in an asbestos exposure case

$1.05 billion

verdict against DePuy Orthopaedics and Johnson & Johnson in a defective medical devices case

Our successful experience standing up to powerful corporations uniquely qualifies us to handle claims against 3M and other black lung defendants. We win by uncovering the truth and helping juries understand it. We are confident our cases in Kentucky and West Virginia will result in our clients receiving the compensation they deserve.

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