CSX wants to change asbestos procedure

By Steve Korris | Apr 1, 2009



CHARLESTON - CSX Transportation wants a state judge to impose a 30-day deadline for a Pittsburgh law firm to separate baseless claims of asbestos exposure from legitimate claims.

On March 19, the railroad giant asked Circuit Judge Arthur Recht for swift action in view of the firm of Peirce, Raimond and Coulter's "unreliable practices in the generation and prosecution of asbestos claims."

Recht, a former Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, presides over about 5,000 Peirce suits by appointment of a statewide Mass Litigation Panel.

In a motion for a case management order, CSX lawyer Robert Massie argued that Peirce plaintiffs should sign notarized statements to keep their cases open.

For starters, plaintiffs would have to declare their awareness that they sued CSX.

A day earlier, in a related suit at federal court in Wheeling, CSX lawyer Marc Williams claimed that some Peirce plaintiffs don't know they sued CSX.

According to Massie's plan, plaintiffs also would have to declare that their complaints are well founded in fact and they desire to pursue the litigation.

After 30 days, Recht would dismiss every plaintiff who failed to file a statement.

For those who filed statements, CSX would give the Peirce firm another 30 days to produce medical records.

CSX would then move to dismiss every plaintiff who relied on a diagnosis prepared by doctors Ray Harron, Robert Cohen, Donald Breyer, Robert Mezey or James Krainson.

CSX and other companies defending themselves against asbestos and silica exposure suits in other courts claim the doctors falsified tens of thousands of X-ray reports.

Finally, if a plaintiff has filed a statement and the signature on the X-ray report bears no taint, CSX would require an examination by a pulmonologist in 90 days.

An exam wouldn't count unless the Peirce firm intended to call the pulmonogist as an expert witness at trial.

For plaintiffs who have died, CSX would require a record review by a pulmonologist.

Massie attached to the motion the results of an investigation that Williams submitted to U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp of Wheeling on March 19.

In that case, CSX seeks damages from Peirce, his firm, and Harron for expenses in defending and settling asbestos suits.

Williams traced an X-ray forgery to deceased Peirce plaintiff Rodney Chambers, not to the Peirce firm, but he laid a portion of the blame on the firm.

He wrote that the firm gave Chambers an improper $750 advance on a settlement and instructed him to find a doctor who would confirm another doctor's X-ray report.

Chambers didn't find a doctor to confirm the report and the firm kept sending him preprinted forms, Williams wrote, so Chambers took matters into his own hands.

Williams wrote that the firm's mass filing strategy prevented lawyers from communicating with clients and delayed prosecution of their claims.

Massie's motion for Recht echoed the findings of the investigation.

Massie wrote that "virtually all of these claims originated as the result of mass screenings conducted by the Peirce firm, rather than as the result of diagnoses from the plaintiffs' own health care providers."

"In other words, but for the Peirce firm's use of mass screenings across the eastern seaboard and its aggressive solicitation of union members, the vast majority of these claims would not exist," he wrote.

"They are not personal injury claims in the traditional sense; instead, they are a legal commodity generated and brokered by the Peirce firm on the proverbial trading floor of West Virginia's Mass Litigation Panel."

He told Recht a new case management order was "the only way for CSX and the court to identify, as quickly and efficiently as possible, which of the Peirce firm's clients are genuinely sick and which were simply victims of the firm's claims generation practices."

Massie and Williams practice at Huddleston Bolen in Huntington. Their colleague Luke Lafferre also represents CSX before Recht.

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