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Appalachian justice: defending workers' rights in S.W. Virginia

Updated: Apr 4

Her journey began when she exited the plane at eight years old, stepping onto U.S. soil for the first time, not speaking a word of English, with the dream of getting an education.

Courtesy of The Law Offices of Mark T. Hurt

Attorney Mingkwan Collins is a Thai immigrant who grew up in the tropics of southern Thailand. Her mother is Thai, and her father is American.

She is a general law practitioner at Mark T. Hurt Law Firm, with a special focus on workers’ compensation, pneumoconiosis (black lung) and human rights law.

"As a child in Thailand, I witnessed a lot of civil and political unrest during the tail end of the Vietnam War," said Collins. "At a young age, I knew the importance of a society rooted in democracy and justice."

When Collins was in high school, she learned about the seminal case of Brown vs. Board of Education, undoing segregation in public schools. This case was such a pivotal moment for her that it influenced her decision to become an attorney.

From that point forward, she knew she wanted to be a part of a profession that could effectuate change and positively impact society.

Years later, Collins won several important cases, leading to legal publications including Pittson Co. v. CALO; Phillips v. Walmart Stores, Inc; and Cochran Industries VA v. Meadows.

Attorney Collins practices law in Southwest Virginia and strives to represent the underserved segment of the population, including coal miners and non-English speakers. The law firm she has partnered with accommodates such needs by employing foreign language interpreters, consulting medical experts and gathering evidence to develop a strong case for her clients.

Courtesy of The Law Offices of Mark T. Hurt

Recently, Collins represented a client from Latin America who was severely injured on the job. He previously went to several law firms seeking legal representation but could not find an attorney due to the language barrier. Attorney Collins, however, was able to bridge the communication gap by employing an interpreter. Ultimately, she was able to help this client successfully get medical treatment for his work injuries and financial compensation. She recalls that at the end of their initial meeting, her client’s wife hugged her and said, "Gracias por ayudar a mi esposo," meaning "thank you for helping my husband."

In addition to representing injured workers, Attorney Collins explains that coal miners in this area continue to struggle for medical and financial benefits, even after being diagnosed with black lung disease.

She explains that one of her clients recently died due to complications of this disease, leaving behind a family and a young child. Fortunately, she is still able to represent the client’s family in their pursuit of survivor benefits.

"One misconception the public may have about attorneys is that we have high profile cases and a glamorous job - but that is not always true," said Attorney Collins with a chuckle.

In reality, her work involves extensive legal research and is reading and writing intensive, often requiring her to bring work home during the week and work on weekends.

Courtesy of Mingkwan Collins

When she is not in the courtroom or reading documents, Collins likes to keep a low profile. She enjoys paddleboarding, listening to Pearl Jam and playing the cello.

Attorney Collins is an alumna of East Tennessee State University, where she earned her Master’s in education before becoming an attorney.

When asked about the source of her professional inspiration, she stated that her biggest inspiration is her faith and her father, a retired Associated Press journalist and photojournalist.

Attorney Collins' lifelong mission is to live a life of service and have a fulfilling career aligned with her values while leading with knowledge and empathy.


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