CHARLESTON -- A statewide legal reform group is praising U.S. District Judge Fredrick Stamp's decision not to dismiss an action against a West Virginia radiologist who was paid close to $10 million by personal injury lawyers as part of a alleged lawsuit mill.
Dr. Ray Harron was hired by lawyers to perform mass screenings on patients claiming to be injured in the workplace, many of whom allegedly were never seen by a doctor. Harron's office records show that on one day he examined 515 patients, more than one a minute.
"Ray Harron is a poster-child for West Virginia's broken court system," said Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. "We salute Judge Stamp for putting the breaks on this scam which drives jobs out of our state."
Harron must now defend himself in Stamp's court against an allegation that he falsified a diagnosis of Earl Baylor so lawyers could file an asbestos suit.
Harron argued that the claim did not meet a $75,000 minimum for federal jurisdiction, but Stamp found that CSX has spent more than that on legal fees.
CSX told Stamp it spent about $76,000 defending Baylor's claim in state court and about $68,000 investigating and prosecuting the fraud claim in Stamp's court.
CSX also urged Stamp to add possible punitive damages to the calculation.
"This court finds that the estimate of attorneys' fees provided by CSX, combined with the possibility of punitive damages, is sufficient to establish diversity jurisdiction in this case," Stamp wrote in a Feb. 19 order. "It is well established that under West Virginia law, a plaintiff who has been injured by the fraudulent conduct of a defendant is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees.
"This court also notes that Dr. Harron does not dispute the availability of punitive damages in this case, only that punitive damages do not satisfy the jurisdictional amount in controversy."
One of Stamp's colleagues on the federal bench, Judge Janis Jack, said Harron played a role in assembly-line lawsuits "manufactured for money" in a landmark 2005 decision.
Harron has appeared before congressional investigators and, according to Cohen, his records have reportedly been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney's office.
Cohen went on to note that one of Harron's x-rays presented as "medical evidence" by personal injury lawyers to a West Virginia court was certified by a doctor who does not exist. A check with three medical licensing boards had no record of him, his office address is an empty lot and the phone number given to the court as his has belonged to a Huntington woman for more than a dozen years who has no connection to him.
"Judge Stamp's ruling sends a signal to the lawsuit industry that gaming the system has no place in West Virginia courts," Cohen said. "Personal injury lawyer greedy is a major reason why employers look elsewhere to create jobs."
CSX also seeks damages from Pittsburgh lawyers Robert Peirce, Louis Raimond, Mark Coulter and Robert Gilkison.