It's no secret that West Virginia's unbalanced court system is a favorite place for personal injury lawyers to file thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits, including questionable and downright fraudulent cases. Not surprisingly, our state's unfortunate rise to "most favored venue" status only adds to the "worst place to do business" rating that sours employment opportunities for West Virginians.
This straightforward equation must not be lost upon our state Legislature.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal highlighted a West Virginia native who is a central figure in a case of widespread asbestos and silicosis litigation fraud: Dr. Ray Harron.
From his Bridgeport office, Dr. Harron allegedly diagnosed an astonishing 51,048 people with asbestos-related disease, even though he admitted to not physically examining many of the patients. In one single day, Dr. Harron diagnosed 515 people, a stunning rate of more than one person a minute for an eight hour day!
Dr. Harron is but one example of abuse in West Virginia. One local plaintiff submitted medical "evidence" signed by a doctor who never even existed. A Pittsburgh personal injury firm has also been accused of giving improper "settlement advances" to potential asbestos plaintiffs, and allegedly encouraged the filing of hundreds of fraudulent suits, most involving out-of-state plaintiffs.
Several state senators proposed a resolution to study issues related to asbestos litigation. However, the resolution does not go far enough. Any such study needs to look at weeding out baseless claims as well. Allowing personal injury lawyers to waste valuable court time on fraudulent asbestos claims denies access to those individuals who truly deserve their day in court.
(Editor's Note: Heath is the soon-to-be executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.)