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Silicosis doctors testify: denouement

(Earlier entries in the series: Dec. 21; Feb. 17; Feb. 27; Mar. 2; Mar. 14; Mar. 16; Mar. 21.)

Readers here have been following the scandal revealed in the silcosis multi-district litigation hearings in Corpus Christi. Doctors, in cahoots with lawyers, farmed clients with hundreds of bogus silicosis diagnoses a day. Though silicosis kills perhaps 200 people a year, somehow there were 20,000 silicosis lawsuits being brought in Mississippi alone. Judge Janis Graham Jack, in a blistering 249-page opinion, held such evidence inherently unreliable.

"These diagnoses were about litigation rather than healthcare. It is apparent that truth and justice had very little to do with these diagnoses—otherwise more effort would have been devoted to ensuring they were accurate. Instead, these diagnoses were driven neither by health nor justice: they were manufactured for money."

Though that decision is not binding on state courts that will eventually handle the cases after a jurisdictional remand, one hopes it will be influential. An even bigger scandal might be the fact that this is the first time a court has inquired into the mass screenings fraud in asbestos and silicosis suits. More than 65% of the silica plaintiffs had previously sued over asbestos. Ray Harron, criticized in Corpus Christi, has made 52,000 asbestos diagnoses.

Judge Jack singled out O'Quinn, Laminack and Pirtle (OL Jun. 18, 2004 and links therein) for criticism:

"The clear motivation for O'Quinn's micro-management of the diagnostic process was to inflate the number of plaintiffs and overwhelm the defendants and the judicial system. This is apparently done in hopes of extracting mass nuisance-value settlements because the defendants and the system are financially incapable of examining the merits of each individual claim in the usual manner."

Judge Jack's sanctions, however, were limited to about eight thousand dollars in attorney's fees (not $825,000, as the Wall Street Journal reported), in part because the defendants were unable to meet the restrictive standards for proving fraudulent joinder (cf. Mar. 28 and OL Jul. 11), which meant that she also held that she did not have jurisdiction over the vast majority of the cases that were removed by defendants from state court to federal court. Unless criminal prosecutors move in, there may not be much deterrence of this fraud. A federal grand jury in New York has been issuing subpoenas. (Neal Falgoust, "Judge: Cases about money, not justice", Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Jul. 2; Mary Alice Robbins, "Silica Order Could Affect Future Mass Tort Litigation", Texas Lawyer, Jul. 12; Wall Street Journal, "The Silicosis Sheriff", Jul. 14 ($); Neal Falgoust, "Judge may sway other silicosis suits", Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Jul. 6; Mike Tolson, "Attorneys behind silicosis suits draw U.S. judge's wrath", Houston Chronicle, Jul. 2).



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.