NY Times: Dr. Harron's mass diagnoses raise doubts

By Ann Knef | Nov 29, 2005

Harron Square in Bridgeport is home to Dr. Ray Harron's office.

Bridgeport radiologist Ray A. Harron, labeled "a vital cog" in the nation's multibillion-dollar asbestos and silicosis "lawsuit machine," has been the subject of glaring local and national media attention lately.

More than a decade ago Harron gradually stopped seeing patients and instead focused on reading X-rays and preparing medical reports for asbestos litigants—a practice that paid him handsomely.

A front page article in the New York Times Nov. 29 painted an unflattering picture of Dr. Harron, age 73. Credited with making more than 75,000 lung injury diagnoses since the mid-1990s, Dr. Harron’s harshest critic says they “were manufactured for money.”

According to the Times' report, if Dr. Harron had charged $125 per medical report for the 76,224 claims he submitted to the Johns Manville Personal Injury Trust, he would have earned $9.5 million from those claims alone.

Asbestos defense attorneys are fighting back after three decades, 700,000 claims, numerous bankruptcies and a payout of $70 billion in litigation costs and $49 billion in compensation to victims. They are scrutinizing Dr. Harron's X-ray evaluations, contending they are "unreliable at best, fraudulent at worst," according to the Times' report.

An article in the Gazette-Mail on Nov. 27 stated that Dr. Harron was the diagnosing physician in 53,724 different claims filed against the Manville Trust.

"Lawyers for asbestos companies and for bankruptcy trusts created to pay asbestosis and silicosis victims are questioning the validity of diagnoses made by Harron and other physicians hired by lawyers representing plaintiffs in lawsuits," the Gazette-Mail article stated.

In both articles, Harron did not provide direct comment.

But the Times did quote Dr. Harron who provided personal perspective in a 2004 deposition:

“The dog died and the kids left home. My responsibilities were over, so I kind of gave up real medical work.”

A spokesman for a legal reform advocacy group, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), said the unraveling of dubious asbestos and silicosis claims reveals an economic tragedy.

"It really hits home to hear that a West Virginia doctor is in the middle of this asbestos and silica mess, making thousands of so-called diagnoses without physical examinations to help personal injury lawyers profit from questionable claims," said Richard Heath, Jr., Field Director for West Virginia CALA.

"The real tragedy is that while tens of thousands of claims are filed by unimpaired plaintiffs, truly sick people wait in line for needed compensation, and some 60,000 American jobs are lost."

While Dr. Harron has not been formally accused of wrong-doing, pressure is building.

“Congressional investigators are now looking into asbestos and silica litigation,” the Times report stated. “Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are also looking into asbestos claims, and while it is not clear whether they are looking at Dr. Harron’s work, they have sought documents from a medical screening company that used his services and from others involved in asbestos and related litigation.

“The spotlight on Dr. Harron’s work comes at a time when critics of plaintiffs’ lawyers have portrayed the sweeping product liability litigation over asbestos and silica as an effort to game a system set up to compensate injured workers. Defense lawyers have criticized expert witnesses and diagnosing doctors in the past for supporting lawsuits that the lawyers say lack merit."

Federal Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi, Texas, has leveled the most serious allegations of fraud, sending some claims back to state court and sanctioning a plaintiff's firm.

"The record does not reveal who originally devised this scheme, but it is clear that the lawyers, doctors and screening companies were all willing participants," Judge Jack wrote.

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