NATCHEZ, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - A federal jury decided Monday that two Mississippi lawyers committed fraud against a railroad company they sued in a pair of asbestos lawsuits.
The jury ruled that attorneys William Guy and Thomas Brock submitted false information in a pair of questionnaires submitted by Illinois Central Railroad while settling with two of their clients. The jury found the attorneys failed to disclose their clients' previous involvements in another case, an asbestos mass action filed in Jefferson County, Miss.
Warren Turner received a $120,000 settlement from Illinois Central, and Willie Harried received $90,000. The jury ruled for the settlement funds to be returned, plus another $210,000 in punitive damages.
"This case is significant because it is the first time I am aware of that a jury has found that asbestos plaintiffs' lawyers committed fraud," said Mark Behrens, a Washington, D.C., attorney with Shook, Hardy & Bacon.
A spokesperson for Illinois Central said the company will continue aggressively pursue suspected fraud or litigation abuses.
The complaints allege the company would not have been obligated to pay the settlements had it known that Harried joined the mass action, titled Cosey, in 1995 and Turner in 1996.
Harried and Turner both filed suit against Illinois Central in 2001. The complaints say the attorneys knew of the previous lawsuits.
"Guy and Brock did not disclose Turner's prior asbestos claim in Cosey to Illinois Central at any time before Turner's settlement was consummated and the settlement check was accepted and deposited by Guy and Brock," the Turner complaint says.
Another fraud case stemming from an asbestos lawsuit is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Peirce, Raimond & Coulter of Pittsburgh is accused by CSX Transportation of conspiring to fabricate an asbestos exposure claim.
Former Bridgeport, W.Va., radiologist Ray Harron was accused of diagnosing lung disease in patients who did not have it. CSX says Peirce, Raimond & Coulter then hid those plaintiffs with thousands of others, preventing it from being able to adequately investigate each complaint.
In 2005, federal court judge Janis Graham Jack made national headlines when she uncovered duplicate and fraudulent silica diagnoses in her Texas courtroom. Many of those diagnoses were made by Harron and were made on plaintiffs who had already brought asbestos claims.
In Jack's opinion dismissing the claims, she said "These diagnoses were driven by neither health nor justice - they were manufactured for money."
Following Harron's admission that he did not even make the diagnoses of the patients whose x-rays he read, Jack noted that most of "these diagnoses are more the creation of lawyers than doctors."
U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp ruled for the Peirce firm, deciding that CSX missed the statute of limitations when filing its claim.