Trials & Litigation

4th Circuit rejects widow's fraud claim over info withheld from defendant's expert witnesses

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Rejecting a widow’s argument that a coal company committed a fraud on the court by withholding information from its own experts supporting her husband’s claim of black lung disease in a worker’s compensation case, a federal appeals court has dismissed her suit seeking additional benefits.

In a Friday opinion (PDF), the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Elk Run Coal Company’s conduct during the litigation concerning West Virginia coal miner Gary Fox’s health problems “warrants nothing approaching judicial approbation” but “we are unable to say that it rose to the level of fraud on the court.”

Plaintiff Mary Fox had argued that her now-deceased husband lost nearly a decade’s worth of compensation under the federal Black Lung Benefits Act due to deception by the coal company. Represented by the Jackson Kelly law firm, Elk Run withheld, from the experts it relied on to counter Gary Fox’s benefits claim, medical records supporting his black-lung diagnosis. The law firm countered that the medical records were protected under a litigation work product privilege.

In a written statement provided to West Virginia Metro News, Jackson Kelly said the firm is pleased with the 4th Circuit decision and had acted in the underlying worker’s comp case in a manner “consistent with our duty to represent our client” in an adversarial proceeding.

“As the court noted, under our legal system, parties on all sides of a dispute are entitled to effective representation,” the firm wrote. “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.”

See also: “Law firm’s tactics in black-lung case before federal appeals court”

Center for Public Integrity: “Coal industry’s go-to law firm withheld evidence of black lung, at expense of sick miners”

Charleston Gazette: “Rule change could help coal firm in black lung lawsuit controversy”

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