On Wednesday the US Court of Appeals 4th District ruled against a West Virginia coal company with a yearly capacity of one million tons in Sewell Coal Company v. Gerald Triplett, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 25921. Triplett had been awarded black lung benefits in 2006 by the Benefits Review Board of the Department of Labor. Sewell argued that Triplett had an 18-pack year smoking history and that pneumoconiosis substantially contributed to his disability.
The Board had found pulmonary medicine expert witness Dr. Ramussen’s testimony persuasive in the case. Rasmussen reviewed Triplett’s x-rays, pulmonary function studies, arterial blood gas studies, medical records, and earlier expert witnesses’ reports. He concluded that Triplett’s pulmonary impairment is severe, disabling, and attributable to coal mine dust exposure. Dr. Rasmussen also noted that coal mine dust exposure can produce chronic obstructive lung disease including bronchitis and emphysema. Thus, he explained that it was completely impossible to exclude coal mine dust exposure as a major contributing factor to Triplett’s disability.