Expert Article Library

Appeals Court Rejects Weighting of Medical Expert Evidence by Trial Court

Case Name: Martin v. Ligon Preparation Company (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit; on appeal from Benefits Review Board, United States Department of Labor

Date: March 4, 2005

Expert: Medical Experts. Dr. Donald L. Rasmussen, medical doctor, Board-certified in internal medicine with extensive experience in pulmonary medicine and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis; Dr. Bruce C. Brody, medical doctor; Dr. Gregory L. Fino, medical doctor, pulmonary specialist, Board-certified in Internal Medicine and Pulmonary disease.

Issues: Did the judge err by giving the testimony of one of the physicians less weight than the testimony of the others.

Summary of case: This case involved an appeal from a decision of the Benefits Review Board (“BRB”), U.S. Department of Labor, denying the plaintiff benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (“BLBA”). The administrative law judge’s decision to deny the plaintiff benefits was based on his/her evaluation of expert testimony from 3 physicians. The judge found the testimony of 2 of the physicians to be more probative than the opinion of the 3rd expert physician. The Court of Appeals found that there was no basis for finding the opinion of the 3rd expert less probative and so vacated the decision and remanded the case for further consideration.

Role of the expert: Both Dr. Brody and Dr. Fino testified that in their medical opinion the plaintiff was not suffering from pneumoconiosis (“black lung disease”). Dr. Rasmussen administered an exercise blood-gas test and opined that the plaintiff was suffering from black lung disease.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: At trial, the judge accorded less weight to Dr. Rasmussen’s testimony. The judge found that Dr. Rasmussen’s diagnosis proved “’clinical’ but not ‘legal’ pneumoconiosis” and that Dr. Brody’s evidence was more credible due, in part, to Dr. Brody’s internal medicine and pulmonary disease Board-accreditation. The Court of Appeals found that the explanation the judge provided for according Dr. Rasmussen’s opinion less weight was not supported by substantial evidence. Further, the Court of Appeals stated that the judge’s finding that Dr. Rasmussen had diagnosed “clinical but not legal pneumoconiosis” was not an accurate statement of law.

Summary prepared by R. Zapparoni