West Virginia Record

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Turning the asbestos tables

By The West Virginia Record | Feb 20, 2009

Defendant courage is getting contagious.

We've written in recent weeks about CSX Corp., the large West Virginia employer and frequent corporate target of allegedly fraudulent asbestos claims, that finally is fighting back against its quick buck accusers.

CSX is suing Dr. Ray Harron, the Bridgeport radiologist accused of fabricating diagnoses to help squeeze lucrative settlements out of the company.

Now CSX has company, our staff reports. National Service Industries (NSI), an Atlanta-based maker of electric light fixtures, filed suit against Harron and his son, Andrew, in a Mississippi court earlier this month, making similar allegations -- that the duo conspired with an x-ray dealer and others to falsify asbestos claims.

"Defendants engaged in this unlawful scheme for the purpose of monetary gain by creating fraudulent medical documentation to make the individuals that they recruited and 'screened' appear to suffer from asbestos related disease," said the lawsuit. "NSI paid millions of dollars to settle asbestos related injury claims of malignant and non-malignant lung disease that were supported by defendants' false medical evidence."

NSI, like CSX, paid thousands each to hundreds of plaintiffs to "resolve" these allegedly fake claims, apparently never investigating whether the folks getting the payouts actually were sick.

We can appreciate that businesses have to factor the cost of fighting every lawsuit. It's not just a fight for truth, justice and principle. The executives in charge have a responsibility to shareholders. Lawsuits are expensive. And before squaring off against plaintiff's lawyers and their enablers and pro-plaintiff judges, businesses must mitigate risk.

That can mean settling for thousands of dollars, rather than spending millions in legal fees to "bet the company" that a judge or jury will decide in their favor.

Some plaintiff's lawyers sniffed out this calculus early. And far from lowering risk, the settlement approach has provided a rich incentive to sue and sue some more.

By settling and rarely pushing back, wrongfully accused corporate defendants fuel a machine that could destroy them. Even worse, the settlements help perpetuate a false narrative of "guilty as charged," making it easier for politicians and judges who could stop the fraud to not give a second glance at schemers such as the accused Dr. Harron.

So 750,000 asbestos lawsuits, 73 corporate bankruptcies and 60,000 jobs later, business finally is fighting back. It's about time.

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