Lawyers found liable in asbestos case

Jury says they conspired to fabricate claims against CSX

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Two prominent Pittsburgh personal-injury lawyers conspired with a West Virginia radiologist to fabricate bogus asbestos claims against railroad operator CSX, a federal court jury in Wheeling, W.Va., decided on Thursday.

Attorneys Robert Peirce and Louis Raimond, along with the doctor, Ray Harron, were ordered to pay $429,240, an amount that could later be tripled under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The award represents a rare victory for companies that have long complained of being victimized by predatory law firms, greedy patients and crooked doctors bringing fake asbestos claims.

CSX had been targeted by Mr. Peirce's former firm, Peirce, Raimond & Coulter, but turned the tables and sued the firm and the doctor under the RICO law, leveling accusations that they were guilty of racketeering by manufacturing claims.

The suit said many claims involved plaintiffs who were diagnosed by Dr. Harron, who lost his medical license in 2007 after being accused of fraudulent diagnoses in Texas asbestos cases in 2005.

CSX said it had identified hundreds of cases in which Dr. Harron at first found patients to be free of asbestosis and then changed his diagnoses. The railroad chose 11 of those to present at trial.

Mr. Peirce fought back and initially won summary judgment, but CSX appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which two years ago remanded the case to allow CSX to amend its complaint. The company did that in 2011 and the case proceeded.

The trial started in Wheeling on Dec. 11, with doctors testifying for CSX that the plaintiffs showed no signs of lung disease related to asbestos. The eight-person jury deliberated 21/2 hours before siding with the railroad.

"The verdict by this West Virginia jury is a strong statement that the integrity of our civil justice system must be protected," said attorney Marc Williams, who represented CSX. "We firmly believe that cheating in the legal system must be exposed."

Reached yesterday, Mr. Peirce said he's weighing his options.

"Of the thousands of asbestos claims we have filed, CSX identified 11 that they claimed were filed without any reasonable basis," he said.

His defense team presented two doctors -- one of them Dr. Harron -- who testified that the plaintiffs had lung disease related to asbestos, counter to the testimony of CSX's doctors. A trial lawyer also testified that Mr. Peirce had a reasonable basis and an obligation to bring the asbestos claims against CSX.

"For reasons that we cannot understand, the jury ignored this testimony," Mr. Peirce said. "We are convinced that the jury got it wrong and strongly disagree with the verdict, but as lawyers, we recognize and respect the jury system and legal process."

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Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-231-0132.


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