November 22, 2013

Credit: Mary Fox / The Center for Public Integrity

Credit: Mary Fox / The Center for Public Integrity

The Charleston Daily Mail recently ran a story detailing allegations against a large West Virginia-based law firm that it repeatedly withheld information necessary to lawsuits against coal companies. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of miners seeking black lung benefits. The newspaper story was based on an investigative journalism report by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity.

In its report, the Center states that West Virginia-based law firm Jackson Kelly PLLC. The law firm has represented the coal industry for almost 200 years.

The Center’s report details the unfortunate story of Gary Fox, who worked in mines for more than 25 years before being diagnosed with complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – the most severe form of black lung disease. Fox tried to represent himself in his case seeking black lung benefits from his employer Massey Energy Co., who had retained Jackson Kelly as its counsel. The report notes that “time and money are on the side of the coal company, which can hire scads of experts and drag cases out for years or decades.”

In presenting his case, Fox offered brief testimony and a medical examination report. In contrast, the coal company offered reams of exhibits, medical reports, depositions, and resumes of highly-skilled doctors who examined Fox’s case. The Center’s report claims that Jackson Kelly withheld reports by pathologists indicating that Fox had black lung disease. Without access to this report, Fox was unable to win his case and was denied benefits. Needing health insurance, he went back to work in mines while his health declined.

The Center’s report makes some startling claims:

“Jackson Kelly, documents show, over the years has withheld unfavorable evidence and shaped the opinions of its reviewing doctors by providing only what it wanted them to see. Miners, often lacking equally savvy lawyers or even any representation, had virtually no way of knowing this evidence existed, let alone the wherewithal to obtain it.”

To date, the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel has not filed charges against the three Jackson Kelly lawyers who litigated Fox’s case.

At The Cochran Firm, D.C., we only represent injured victims and their families. Often, we have to stand up to enormous corporations, insurance companies, and healthcare firms. Our attorneys understand the tactics used by defense law firms and know how to aggressively counter their typical litigation strategies. By retaining our team of experienced injury attorneys, you have a law firm that is equally savvy and capable to law firms retained by large corporate entities.

Although the saga has not played itself out yet, Gary Fox’s story illustrates the important of retaining qualified, experienced counsel. It’s a sad fact that defense law firms may try to unscrupulously take advantage of a plaintiff’s inexperience. Big corporations often hire aggressive counsel that will put out all the stops in an attempt to deny a claim. With a top-tier law firm like The Cochran Firm, D.C. on your side, a defendant’s lawyer can no longer abuse your inexperience with the legal system. It’s best to have a skilled ally who has been there before and can guide you through the legal process. Our results speak for themselves.

Disclosure: The Cochran Firm, D.C. represented victims of the Sago mine explosion in West Virginia. Defendants in the case were represented by attorneys with Jackson Kelly LLP.