11/21/2018 - Court says Hopkins doctor had protection as expert witness

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the families of coal miners who were denied benefits for black lung disease after a Johns Hopkins doctor insisted X-rays did not show the disease.

The ruling Friday by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a 2017 ruling by a federal judge who found Dr. Paul Wheeler had immunity as an expert witness for coal companies.

In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court panel agreed, finding that expert witnesses are shielded from civil liability under Maryland and federal law.

The families' lawyer had argued that Wheeler and the black lung unit at Johns Hopkins believed they were "above the law" when Wheeler disregarded regulations on how to interpret X-rays to diagnose black lung disease.

The Black Lung Benefits Act provides monthly benefits to eligible surviving family members of coal miners whose deaths were due to black lung disease, or "pneumoconiosis." The Act also provides monthly benefits to survivors of miners who were entitled to benefits based on their own lifetime claims. In either case, miners may receive additional benefits for family members who are dependent on them. A coal mining company which employed the deceased coal miner (usually the last company that employed the miner for a year or more) may be required to pay families' benefits if it meets certain requirements under the law. Otherwise, the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund will pay benefits.

See link below for more details