The prominent black lung defense firm Jackson Kelly PLLC has a record of withholding key evidence, the Center for Public Integrity found as part of the yearlong investigation "Breathless and Burdened." Here are five examples from confidential case files obtained by the Center. Each stack of paper represents a miner’s file, with the earliest filings and evidence at the bottom. The red paper shows when in the progression of the case a key piece of evidence was generated. These reports were not disclosed until months or years later, and, in some cases, they showed that a miner’s previous defeat had rested on incomplete or misleading evidence.
Judging Jackson Kelly
In court decisions and emails obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, some judges have criticized Jackson Kelly’s approach in federal black lung benefits claims.
Steve Day's X-ray
An X-ray of Steve Day’s chest, taken in 2009, shows two large masses (indicated by arrows). On previous films, Dr. Paul Wheeler said the masses likely were caused by tuberculosis or a fungal infection from bird and bat droppings. A half-dozen doctors have interpreted the masses as complicated black lung. Dr. John E. Parker, who used to run the government’s X-ray surveillance program, said this X-ray shows a classic case of the severe disease. Mouse over the X-rays to magnify the images.
X-ray readings compared
For decades, Dr. Paul Wheeler has led a unit of radiologists at Johns Hopkins who often are enlisted by the coal industry to read X-rays in black lung benefits cases. The Center for Public Integrity identified more than 1,500 cases decided since 2000 in which Wheeler was involved, reading a total of more than 3,400 X-rays. In these cases, he never found a case of complicated black lung, and he read an X-ray as positive for the earlier stages of the disease in less than 4 percent of cases. Subtracting from these the cases in which he ultimately concluded another disease was more likely, this number drops to about 2 percent.
A 19-year fight for benefits
Former miner Ted Latusek has tried for almost two decades to prove that the scarring in his lungs was caused by coal mine dust. Doctors testifying for the company have denied any link between his particular pattern of disease and his work, despite increasing recognition of this form of illness by government agencies and independent researchers. Click on a gavel to read the decision.