Coal dust exposure claim is dismissed in Lackawanna County

Judge rules not a mote of evidence given

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A Lackawanna County judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by a former train conductor who claims he suffered permanent pulmonary damage from prolonged exposure to coal dust.

The judge found that "causation," medical evidence linking the exposure to the health issues, cannot be established without expert testimony from the medical community.

In Mullin v. Delaware & Hudson Railway, Lackawanna County Common Pleas Judge Terrence R. Nealon granted summary judgment to defendant Delaware & Hudson Co. on the grounds that plaintiff James J. Mullin failed to present "an iota" of medical proof that his pulmonary issues were the result of his exposure to coal dust while working as a train conductor.

"Mullin has not identified a scintilla of medical proof suggesting that he has been diagnosed with pneumoconiosis or some other pulmonary injury and that such condition was caused, even slightly, by occupational dust exposure," Judge Nealon said.

In the case, the judge said, the plaintiff filed suit against D&H, claiming he developed a pulmonary condition as a result of prolonged exposure to coal while working for the rail company.

On May 29, Mr. Mullin filed a certificate of readiness claiming that "all discovery in the case has been completed and all depositions for use at trial have been scheduled or completed," according to Judge Nealon.

But on Aug. 10, D&H filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Mr. Mullin had not submitted a report by a medical expert. And at oral argument Nov. 1, Mr. Mullin's counsel admitted that no expert medical report had been obtained.

According to Judge Nealon, Mr. Mullin's case has been consolidated with seven other suits filed under the Federal Employers Liability Act, in which former D&H employees claim they developed pneumoconiosis from coal dust exposure.

Mr. Mullin, however, is the only plaintiff in the case who has never submitted an expert medical report supporting his claim, Judge Nealon said.

"Based upon the record submitted for review, Mullin's pulmonary claim does not qualify as one where the causal relationship between his alleged pulmonary injury and his employment conditions is so obvious and direct that a layperson could ascertain their causal connection," the judge wrote.

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Zack Needles: zneedles@alm.com or 215-557-2493. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.


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