WHEELING – Robert Peirce's law firm in Pittsburgh bears no liability for a phony X-ray in an asbestos suit against CSX Transportation, a jury in federal court decided on Aug. 14.
Jurors cleared former Peirce employee Robert Gilkison of blame in the substitution of a railroad worker for another worker's X-ray.
The verdict in Gilkison's favor automatically exonerated the Peirce firm.
Jurors chose not to rely on testimony of Ricky May, whose asbestos lawsuit against CSX depended on an X-ray of Daniel Jayne.
May told jurors Gilkison proposed the scheme while they drank after a union meeting, but Gilkison said the idea came from May.
Gilkison said he didn't report it to the firm because he didn't take it seriously.
The firm battered May's credibility with sworn statements from CSX managers.
Jurors learned that retired director of occupational disease litigation A.F. Bobersky described May in a deposition as "one who abused the system."
Bobersky called Jayne a trouble maker and said, "I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him."
Jurors learned that when Huntington division superintendent Ronald Close took a telephone call about the fraud and May's role, it didn't shock him.
Close said in a deposition that he believed May was the type of person to be involved in a fraud like that.
Jurors learned that labor relations manager John Thompson said in a deposition that he was never comfortable dealing with May.
"Our jobs rely on a lot of trust and integrity, and I could never take anything at face value with Mr. May," Thompson said.
U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp presided. The trial lasted four days.
CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said the company was disappointed in the verdict.
"We are reviewing the matter and will make a decision regarding an appeal," he said.
Richie Heath, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, also expressed disappointment.
"While it was an undisputed fact that a lawsuit was filed on the basis of fake medical evidence, this case now makes it unclear when a personal injury firm, and its employees, must report allegations of lawsuit fraud in West Virginia," Heath said.
"If law firms may not have to actively disclose possible instances of fraud, job providers are again left guessing about the fairness of our state's legal system and the practicability of doing business in our state," he said.
CSX will take the Peirce firm to trial again in Stamp's court starting Sept. 15, on a claim that the firm conspired with radiologist Ray Harron to fabricate a lawsuit.