Paging Dr. Frye

By The West Virginia Record | Jul 28, 2006

As long as he's still hiring, Attorney General Darrell McGraw should sign up CSX Transportation to do some heavy earth moving.

Sure, they're in the railroad business. But if he ever happens a glance at West Virginia's great state asbestos scam, they'd be best-qualified to ferret out the fraudsters.

Take Rodney Chambers of Huntington. He sued the company four years ago, demanding compensation because asbestos fibers inhaled on the job made him sick. Dr. Oscar Frye, also of Huntington, even said so, signing the medical diagnosis.

The problem is, Frye doesn't exist. He was merely a useful figment of Chambers' imagination, a credentialed character developed out of thin air, purely to help him squeeze some settlement loot.

"Without faking... medical evidence, plaintiff Chambers would not have been able to (sue)," lawyers for the company explained in court documents last week.

No, he wouldn't. And neither would have Ricky May, a fellow plaintiff who had a sick co-worker impersonate him for the medical examination, as reported in The Record last month. Both were clients of Pittsburgh's Peirce, Raimond & Coulter, a firm so proficient with filing mass numbers of asbestos lawsuits that it pre-printed up forms for its plaintiffs, complete with a canned version of the "facts" of their respective cases.

May and Chambers both figured feigning sickness was a way to make some easy money from CSX. They both assumed the company, deluged with hundreds of asbestos cases filed at once by the Peirce firm and other "mass tort" specialists, wouldn't have time or patience to double check their stories. It's an expensive proposition.

Typically, they would have been correct.

That CSX has opted to take an atypical approach to defending itself, verifying the claims of its many accusers rather than simply rolling over and paying their lawyers to go away, signals a brighter future for our civil justice system.

Public trust in our courts is about what happens when we aren't looking. These lawsuits should be examined one-by-one for their veracity, and plaintiffs and lawyers gaming the system to make a quick buck should not just be dismissed -- they absolutely must be punished.

"Dr. Oscar Frye" may have been an illusion, but that doesn't mean we cannot make an example of him.

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