HUNTINGTON – Few press releases come with a Milk Bone dog biscuit attached.
But West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse did just that to announce a Tuesday press conference related to a CSX asbestosis fraud case.
CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen and Chairman Bob Mauk were on hand Tuesday afternoon along the 1500 block of Fifth Avenue in Huntington with a search dog trying to locate the office of a doctor a plaintiff apparently fabricated in his asbestos claim against CSX Transportation.
Lucy, the search dog, looked high and low for 1507 Fifth Ave., but couldn't find the address or the office of Dr. Oscar Frye, the name of the doctor listed as diagnosing Chambers' asbestosis. So, Lucy tried to beat the heat by relaxing in the shade.
In court documents, CSX says it "determined that there has never been a physician, chiropractor, podiatrist, physician's assistant or osteopath licensed to practice in the State of West Virginia by any licensing board or agency with the name 'Oscar Frye.'"
Also, CSX attorneys learned the phone number Chambers listed for Frye's office has belonged to a Huntington woman for 12 years, and the address he listed for Frye's office does not exist in Huntington and hasn't since at least 1954.
"Without faking this type of medical evidence, plaintiff Chambers would not have been able to allege a proper cause of action against CSXT," CSX claims.
CSX also says the Pittsburgh-based Peirce law firm that specializes in asbestosis claims has provided its plaintiffs with a "pre-printed form and diagnosis regarding their potential claim and its alleged cause."
"The records of these personal injury lawyers showed, as one reporter put it, 'not only wasn't there a doctor in the house, there wasn't even a house," Cohen said. "This appears to be not just personal injury lawyer greed, it is outright fraud.
"This is about integrity of our legal system. Unfortunately, what we may have here is a lawsuit mill -- a sham built on concocted evidence."
While Tuesday's press conference might have been tongue-in-cheek, Mauk the reason for the event is anything but funny.
"What we are trying to do is use a little humor to shed some light on a very serious issue and problem in our state," Mauk, a Huntington resident, said. "Sometimes it can be difficult to get people's attention. Maybe the use of humor here will do that. It's probably better to laugh instead of cry, which is what we should be doing about this problem.
"In the minds of these personal injury lawyers, junk science and questionable claims have a home in West Virginia courtrooms. We're here to be sure that it doesn't."
In court documents, CSX's also says the Chambers case is another example of the type of fraudulent claims that have arisen out of asbestosis screenings operated and supervised by the Peirce Firm, noting another case it filed U.S. District Court in Wheeling against the firm, one of its employees and others.
That suit paints the picture of an elaborate scheme to concoct bogus X-rays that show asbestos in the lungs of a CSX employee. In court papers, the Peirce Firm acknowledged the scheme but denied knowledge of it.
"CSXT has repeatedly, in this civil action and other mass filings, objected to this type of mass approach to litigation pointing to the very examples of fraud and deceit arising from mass screenings, mass diagnosis and mass filings that have recently come to light and that inevitably result from such suspect practices," CSX's motion in the Chambers case states. "The Peirce Firm, without regard to the possible implications of simply sending a form diagnosis to its various plaintiffs, has either wittingly or unwittingly created a situation ripe for fraud."
In court documents, CSX also wonders if similar instances have happened and made it through the legal system.
"While CSXT believes it defied the odds by catching the plaintiff Chambers' fraud, other instances of fraud are likely to go unseen and, without normal litigation discovery, forever uncovered," a memorandum states.
At Tuesday's press conference, Cohen and Mauk also mentioned that Bridgeport radiologist Ray Harron signed off on Chambers' X-rays. Harron was singled out last year in a landmark Texas federal court opinion for having "manufactured" silicosis diagnoses.
Both pointed out that Harron was paid close to $10 million by personal injury lawyers to diagnose potential asbestos victims, many of whom allegedly never were examined by a doctor.
"Juries need accurate information from reputable experts if our courts are to be fair and used for justice instead of greed," Mauk said. "This transparent mockery of our legal system is another urgent alarm for legal reform in our state."