CHARLESTON -- A legal scam in Michigan sounds a lot like one that took place a few years ago in West Virginia.
Lansing physician Michael Kelly was paid $500 by personal injury lawyers for each of 7,323 patients he diagnosed for what appears to be fraudulent medical tests, according to Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
Wayne County (Mich.) Circuit Judge Robert Colombo Jr. last week issued what could be a landmark ruling in asbestos litigation when he threw out medical evidence and expert testimony from Kelly, who has diagnosed thousands of patients with asbestos-related ailments.
The ruling put 2,131 asbestos lawsuits on Colombo's docket alone in jeopardy. The lawyers in those cases now need to find new experts to vouch for those diagnosed by Kelly, according to an article in the Detroit Free Press.
The motion had been filed by attorneys for Sure Seal, challenging Kelly's expertise and noting he is neither a radiologist nor certified to read X-rays. The motion also noted that he earned $500 per exam from the law firm of Goldberg, Persky and White. The attorneys said independent radiologists and their own experts found no evidence of disease in X-rays Kelly viewed as problematic, and that Kelly was misusing a breathing test machine, creating false positives.
Here in West Virginia, Cohen compared the Michigan situation to that of Bridgeport physician Ray Harron and called it a "distortion of judicial fairness."
"Just like the lawsuit mill emanating from the office of a West Virginia radiologist paid nearly $10 million by personal injury lawyers to perform mass screenings on alleged workplace injuries, Michigan seems to have a similar racket," Cohen said. "Dr. Michael Kelly was paid $500 by personal injury lawyers for each of 7,323 patients he diagnosed for what appears to be fraudulent medical tests."
Medical records for Harron, who has since closed his practice outside of Clarksburg, show that on a single day he claimed to have examined 515 patients. The equates to more than one a minute.
Meanwhile, Kelly diagnosed his Michigan patients even though he failed the federal exam qualifying him to do so. It later was discovered that nearly nine of every 10 patients he determined had a workplace-related lung disease, did not. On top of that, Kelly's screenings of patients did not follow medical standards.
In the Harron case, personal injury lawyers presented to a court certification of one of Harron's x-rays which was prepared by a physician who does not exist. When a Michigan judge called a hearing to scrutinize Kelly's bogus evidence, the personal injury lawyers withdrew all but one of its many lawsuits.
"The tragedy of the circumstances in both these states is that, because of personal injury lawyer greed, justice is needlessly delayed or outright denied to those who truly deserve it," Cohen said. "Both Michigan and West Virginia are struggling to grow jobs. These lawsuit mills help explain why."
An expert in asbestos litigation told the Detroit Free Press that the Wayne County ruling should have nationwide ramifications.
"It is the first time in the history of the biggest litigation ever that a judge has excluded the diagnoses of a physician on the basis that they did not meet the standards of reliability set by the U.S. Supreme Court for expert testimony," said Lester Brickman, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University in New York.