More documents, please

By The West Virginia Record | May 15, 2009

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Siebert has to see more than smoke in the matter of Earl Baylor, the South Carolinian whose challenged asbestos sickness diagnosis is part of a questionable West Virginia lawsuit against CSX Transportation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Siebert has to see more than smoke in the matter of Earl Baylor, the South Carolinian whose challenged asbestos sickness diagnosis is part of a questionable West Virginia lawsuit against CSX Transportation.

This week, the court got to see the altered questionnaire that is key to the case. Peirce, Raimond & Coulter of Pittsburgh used the questionnaire with prospective clients it recruited to bring lawsuits on their behalf.

Baylor's questionnaire met the firm's lawsuit standards with some added help apparently by someone other than Baylor.

As reported by our Steve Korris, Baylor's questionnaire features two different types of handwriting. In the section where the potential plaintiff claims exposure to asbestos products, Baylor wrote, "Asbestos hard to breath at time pulmonary hypertension restrictive lung disease sleep apnea hypexie."

Written right below in a different handwriting was phrasing that was more legally precise and actionable, "Asbestos rope, cement, asbestos valve packing."

Pairing these words with the alleged diagnosis of Dr. Ray Harron, Peirce, Raimond & Coulter now had a much better case.

The machinations behind that case are now unraveling in Judge Siebert's courtroom. CSX sued the law firm and Harron alleging fabrications. To the company's credit, CSX is digging deeper and deeper into the case. Apparently there will be no more quick settlements for that company.

"CSX must be permitted to discover and evaluate the extent to which the lawyer defendants may have attempted to influence or misrepresent Baylor's actual work history and claimed exposures to asbestos ..." wrote CSX lawyer David Bolen of Huntington.

The public deserves a full, public vetting of Baylor's case as it sheds much-needed light on West Virginia's asbestos lawsuit industry.

How did law firms find these plaintiffs? How did they confirm their alleged sickness? How many hundreds of thousands of dollars have been made in quick company settlements? Because plaintiff asbestos lawyers used our courts in pursuit of those settlements and you -- the taxpayer -- pay for those courts, you deserve to know the answers to those questions and more.

CSX wants to see more documents related to Baylor's case, including a letter to Baylor from Robert Peirce, name partner of the firm. So far, he has refused to provide them, using various legal arguments.

Judge Siebert should compel Peirce to share. His enticing words to potential clients were his hook -- let him hang or be free with those words.

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