Asbestos mother lode

By The West Virginia Record | Nov 14, 2008

A Pennsylvania lawyer came to Charleston last month and filed 900 lawsuits in one day.

A Pennsylvania lawyer came to Charleston last month and filed 900 lawsuits in one day.

Get that? 900 lawsuits. At once. In the Kanawha County Courthouse.

The price of filing equaled the price of a comfortable Charleston house. We know because we saw the receipt for $110,200 stuck to the front of one set of 760 suits. That fee didn't cover all the filings.

The lawsuits are against two railroads -- CSX and Norfolk Southern. Most involved asbestos, which may explain -- not excuse -- why we were the only West Virginia media outlet that found "The 900" newsworthy.

Asbestos lawsuits are complicated. They're filed quietly by design in overwhelming swathes, perhaps to discourage focus on an individual case. That makes it tough for some media to do a story, but not so tough that the cases should be ignored.

Plaintiffs attorney Robert Daley would love to stay in the shadows. He's a partner with Pittsburgh-based Robert Peirce & Associates, last seen here in court with CSX on behalf of would-be hustlers Ricky May and Danny Jayne.

According to testimony by CSX, an agent of the Peirce firm suggested May find a CSX worker who had already been diagnosed with asbestosis and represent the X-rays as his own. Enter Jayne, who impersonated May during a medical exam, according to testimory.

They got caught, as did fellow Peirce client Rodney Chambers of Huntington, who claimed asbestos fibers he inhaled on the job at CSX made him sick. Dr. Oscar Frye signed off on an examination confirming as much.

Or not. Upon further examination, Dr. Oscar Frye didn't exist. He was a figment of Pierce client Chambers' imagination, fabricated like Ricky May's sickness as a way to cash in through our justice system.

It's hard to understand how an outfit like the Peirce firm gets to practice here, given its track record. But since it does, it behooves the powers-that-be running our justice system to keep a close eye on its claims.

There are 25,000 active asbestos lawsuits on state dockets already. Being inattentive to potential fraud in any of them simply will invite more lawsuits here, forcing those of us genuinely seeking justice to wait in line with more plaintiffs merely hunting an easy payday.

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