Dr. Ray Harron
After a medical expert and law professor tore apart the validity of national asbestos and silicosis litigation before a congressional committee Wednesday, doctors responsible for diagnosing nearly 10,000 disputed claims chose to remain silent.
Dr. Ray A. Harron, a Bridgeport, W.Va. radiologist, his son, Dr. Andrew W. Harron of Kenosha, Wisc. and Dr. James Ballard of Birmingham, Ala. refused to answer whether they would certify the accuracy of their diagnoses on grounds of self-incrimination.
Dr. Laura Welch, medical director at the Center to Protect Workers Rights, of Silver Spring, Md., said that she has never seen a patient with both illnesses.
"It's unlikely for a person to have asbestosis and silicosis," she said.
Edward F. Sherman, a law professor at Tulane Law School in New Orleans, said the "scant" medical evidence presented in the disputed claims should never have held up in court.
But a "B-reader" radiologist, Dr. George Martindale of Mobile, Ala., and the owner of a lung disease screening company he contracted with, Heath Mason, of N&M, Inc., from Moss Point, Miss. explained to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations how they made money from patient "inventory."
Each of the witnesses called to testify played an integral role in the production of thousands of silicosis diagnoses that were manufactured for money, according to U.S. District Judge Janis Jack.
Last year, Jack publicly admonished plaintiff's lawyers for their role in the litigation.
Mason, who testified that 99 percent of his revenue is earned through law firms, vaguely estimated his annual earnings from screening patients for asbestosis or silicosis at between $100,000 and $1 million.
He also answered vaguely when asked to describe how his screening company conducted business with lawyers.
"That's way too broad," Mason said,.
Mason said he provided screenings for many law firms, and singled out a national asbestos firm based in Waco, Texas -- Cherry Campbell-- as a firm that only paid his company for positive diagnoses.
Mason said he counted on physicians such as Dr. Ray Harron to provide them. Harron has reportedly earned nearly $10 million from making diagnoses that became the basis for litigation.
During the hearing, Mason also said his company would accept calls from people over the phone and if they met certain criteria, he would set up a screening.
Martindale contracted with Mason to read X-rays.
He insisted that he only supported diagnoses made by Harron by reviewing X-rays, but that he never had contact with patients.
"I had been told that a diagnosis existed," Martindale said.
"It was more prevalent for settling cases to have a second opinion."
Since launching the investigation on Aug. 2, 2005, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Tx., and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., have written to 16 doctors and medical screening companies, 13 law firms, and health officials in six states seeking details about the financial and business arrangements between doctors, medical screening companies and lawyers to diagnose the disease.
In November, the Subcommittee subpoenaed four individuals.
Two weeks ago the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse watchdog group awarded Harron with a mock "Oscar" for "Best Film Editing."
Steve Cohen, executive director of CALA, said citizens and businesses are fed up with "junk science" used in courtrooms.
"Junk lawsuits and bad actors like Ray Harron who are willing to trade he truth for money are only hurting those who are truly sick and deserving of compensation," said Cohen. "Juries must have accurate information from reliable experts if justice is to be served.
"As a West Virginian, I'm disgusted by the bad reputation Ray Harron has made for our state. This story is running in Texas, Florida and Mississippi where the cases were being heard, and many national publications have reported on West Virginia's lawsuit mill."