4thcircuit
MetroNews staff photo

RICHMOND, Va.–The 4th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that Elk Run Coal Company, represented by the Jackson Kelly law firm, did not commit fraud in a black lung case that drew national attention.

Lawyers for Mary Fox, widow of coal miner Gary Fox, argued that Jackson Kelly lawyers withheld medical evidence that Mr. Fox had black lung.   However, the court found that the law firm’s actions “while hardly admirable, did not… demonstrate the commission of fraud upon the court.”

The Fox case drew national publicity because of a year-long investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.  It alleged in a story last fall that Jackson Kelly, West Virginia’s largest law firm, had a practice of withholding medical evidence that hurt the coal companies they represent in black lung cases.

Black lung is a disease caused by lengthy exposure to coal dust.  Federal law requires coal companies to compensate miners and their families if they have been determined to have the disease.  Companies and miners are allowed to appeal decisions made by the U.S. Labor Department, with each side presenting their own medical evidence.

The Center for Public Integrity and Fox’s lawyers argued that Jackson Kelly withheld pathologists’ reports that showed Fox had black lung, which led to Fox being denied his claim.  The 4th Circuit found, however, that “While Elk Run’s conduct over the course of this litigation warrants nothing approaching judicial approbation, we are unable to say that it rose to the level of fraud on the court.”

Jackson Kelly issued a statement saying it was pleased with the decision.

“As the Court noted, under our legal system, parties on all sides of a dispute are entitled to effective representation.  As the Court acknowledged, the federal black lung program is intended to be adversarial. We have always believed that the actions of our attorneys were lawful,” the statement read in part.

Fox’s attorney, Al Karlin, acknowledged the court’s decision, but added, “We note that the Court did not endorse the firm’s conduct, nor did it consider or resolve the more important question as to whether the firm committed common law fraud.”

Still, the decision represents an acquittal for one of the state’s leading law firms, which had come in for considerable criticism because of the case and the national news coverage it generated.

“We believe our conduct in this case was consistent with our duty to represent our client,” said Jackson Kelly.

 

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Comments

  • concerned citizen

    Evil coal miners are trying toget benefits they don't deserve? The companies are just defending themselves! The courts are very liberal and therefore the miners have the upper hand! If you believe this conservative garbage I have a great investment for you. Send me all your money and I'll let you know when we're successful. Big companies have unlimited legal resources. Miners don't! Most miners don't have the knowledge, skills or abilities to win a BL court case. The companies do! Most attorney's won't take a BL case because they know the odds of winning & federal law restricts the amount they can make. In the Fox case company lawyers withheld evidence. This is plain and simple fraud. Fox died and those lying --------s need to pay!

  • Richard Roles

    Evil coal miners are trying t get benefits they don't deserve? The companies are just defending themselves! The courts are very liberal and therefore the miners have the upper hand! If you believe this conservative garbage I have a great investment for you. Send me all your money and I'll let you know when we're successful. Big companies have unlimited legal resources. Miners don't! Most miners don't have the knowledge, skills or abilities to win a BL court case. The companies do! Most attorney's won't take a BL case because the know the odds of winning & federal law restricts the amount they can make. In the Fox case company lawyers withheld evidence. This is plain and simple fraud. Fox died and those lying --------s need to pay!

  • Rodney Hytonen

    Typical of WV courts.
    They NEVER side aogainst a driller, NO MATTER the merits or evidence.

    This is EXACTLY why fracking is killing us, our families and our livestock.
    And why the billions of gallons of permanently poisoned water will someday bubble up (as it is already in some places in Ritchie and Doddridge) to destroy ALL the water and even render the land barren of all life- as it did in the tests in the GW Test Forest.

  • zero tolerance

    Another case of lawyers (posing as judges) policing themselves and they prevail once again.

    Happens over and over again just like politicians policing themselves.

  • Logic

    I wonder how these scumbags sleep at night knowing what they are doing to hard working miners who deserve to be compensated for black lung disease.

    • BAC

      There are scores of lawyers who will take a coal miner's case and the system is very liberal. If you have black lung, you can get compensation--but if you're too greedy or dumb to get a lawyer, you may not prevail.

      • Jep

        Where are these "scores" of lawyers? Very few take federal black lung cases. Mr. Fox could not find a lawyer to take his case and keep the coal company's lawyers from misrepresenting the evidence. Check the facts.

  • BAC

    Each side of litigation presents its best evidence, the evidence most favorable to its client. A judge or jury then decides who wins. That's how litigation has been conducted for hundreds of years. The court ruled correctly.

  • Hillbilly

    Long time ago I went with a friend who had spent many years in the mines to apply for Black Lung benefits. I remember someone came out and told us all (there were several people also there applying) not to smoke, that the tests they were doing could not differentiate smoke from black lung. Once she disappeared, almost every one of them went outside for a smoke immediately. Even one who did not smoke bummed a cigarette from someone who did and lit up. My friend did not smoke or light up. Most of them qualified for benefits, my friend did not get it.

  • Rich

    So the rich coal companies and their rich fat cat law firms get by again.
    SMH

  • bulldog95

    Dont you know, there is no such thing as black lung. Nevermind the old coal miners that need oxygen tanks to drag around with them when the get up to go to the bathroom, let alone a trip to town. Those miners that breathed in all that coal dust for 30 years are all getting together to make up this disease in an effort to shakedown the coal companies.

    But lets talk about what really exists, and that all the head trauma that football players have from taking hits from playing ball for a few years to maybe 15 years.