Results matching “silicosis”

"Law firm to clients: unfortunately, you're healthy" - PointOfLaw Forum

As Paul Davies notes at the WSJ Law Blog, Mississippi law firm Davis & Feder recently sent a letter to 50 of its 125 silicosis clients saying it was withdrawing from their cases because "unfortunately" reexamination of their files by trained pulmonologists revealed that they didn't have the incurable lung disease after all. The review of the cases' medical files was occasioned by Judge Janis Jack's now-famous order cracking down on mass production of silicosis diagnoses by pliant medical experts. One commenter is skeptical that an objective review would really yield as many as 75 legitimate cases.

Texas Lawyer reports that Houston trial lawyer Warren Todd Hoeffner has been named in a federal indictment that alleges Hoeffner paid more than $3 million in bribes to two former claims adjusters for The Hartford Insurance Co. in connection with $34 million in settlements of silica-related suits.

Hoeffner's firm represented hundreds who claimed they had silicosis or other silica-related diseases.

The indictment notes that Hoeffner received over $5 million in attorney fees from the settlements. So he was apparently sharing 50% of his corrupt booty with his accomplices.

I am off on a 2500 mile solo motorcycle trip, so won't be posting for awhile. Happy 4th to all POL readers!

Silicosis mass screenings ruled improper - PointOfLaw Forum

Nathan Schachtman of McCarter & English has a two-pager (PDF) for the Washington Legal Foundation on the recent ruling by an agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that mass silicosis screenings at three motel parking lots, instigated by a Texas law firm using a New Jersey contractor, were unlawful. The x-rays were taken without physicians' orders, the presence of authorized medical personnel, or advance notice to state medical authorities -- call it "medical malpractice committed by attorneys" and you wouldn't be far off. Earlier coverage here, etc. (via Childs).

Silicosis doc surrenders license - PointOfLaw Forum

More repercussions from Judge Jack's exposure of "red flags of fraud" among repeat silicosis/asbestos claimants, per the Associated Press: "A doctor who made thousands of questionable diagnoses of the lung disease silicosis has surrendered his Texas medical license amid an investigation by the Texas Medical Board. Raymond A. Harron, 74, last week agreed to no longer practice medicine in Texas and not seek renewal or re-issuance of the license he got 44 years ago. His Texas medical license expires May 31." Our earlier coverage of Dr. Harron's exploits is here.

Pa.: x-ray vans in motel parking lots not OK - PointOfLaw Forum

But what is this going to do to the business plan of the silicosis-litigation bar?

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has fined a New Jersey medical screening company $80,500 for X-raying potential silicosis plaintiffs at three Pennsylvania motel parking lots without prior written authorization or the presence of a licensed medical practitioner.

The crackdown follows allegations that Beaumont, Texas-based Provost & Umphrey, of asbestos and tobacco fame, has been using mass screenings to build an inventory of silica cases. Peter Geier at the National Law Journal has the story here. More on the silicosis-screening scandal here, here, here, here, here, here, and many others.

NYC readers: Judge Janis Jack to Speak at Cardozo - PointOfLaw Forum

We recently received this communication from Cardozo Law School about an event that sounds well worth attending:

Judge Janis Jack to Speak at Cardozo; To be Introduced by Adam Liptak of the New York Times

U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack will speak at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University on March 27, 2007 at 6:30 p.m. on �The Silica MDL: Manufacturing Diagnoses for Money.� The presentation is under the auspices of the Program on Legal Ethics in the Tort System. Prof. Lester Brickman, director of the Program, will present a brief overview of the use of litigation screenings in mass tort litigation and resultant ethical issues.

Judge Jack will speak about her experiences in presiding over MDL 1553, involving 10,000 claims of silicosis -- a scarring of the lungs caused by inhalation of sand dusts -- and what led her to decide to hold a Daubert hearing and issue an unprecedented 263-page opinion, 398 Fed. Supp. 2d 563 (S.D. Tex. 2005), rejecting the reliability of thousands of the medical diagnoses. In that opinion -- which continues to reverberate around the mass tort world -- she stated that �it is apparent that truth and justice had very little to do with these diagnoses. . . [Indeed] it is clear that the lawyers, doctors and screening companies were all willing participants� in a scheme to �manufacture [diagnoses] for money.�

Judge Jack�s remarks are intended for lawyers and will be off the record. She will be introduced by Adam Liptak, national legal correspondent at The New York Times.

After Judge Jack�s presentation, Professor Brickman and Mr. Liptak will offer comments and questions will then be taken from the audience.

A reception will be held following Judge Jack�s remarks.

If you wish to attend Judge Jack�s presentation, please RSVP by email to: ybekker [at] yu [dot] edu and give both your name, affiliation and email address. Put in the subject line: RSVP�Judge Jack. You may also RSVP by phone: 212-790-0833.

Two hours of CLE credit (one hour of Ethics credit and one hour of Professional Practice) are available. To be eligible, you must indicate in your RSVP your intent to sign up for CLE credit. Course materials will be forwarded to you by email.

Readers Digest on silicosis/asbestosis scandal - PointOfLaw Forum

The January issue has a major report, authored by John M. Wylie II: "The $40 Billion Scam: How slick lawyers have turned a genuine health crisis into a ripoff you won't believe."

"Exposing the 'Phantom Epidemic' in Silica Litigation" - PointOfLaw Forum

At Law.com, Roger K. Smith and P. Daffodil Tyminski of Morgan Lewis recount some of the high points of the silicosis-screening scandal.

Oct. 12 panel in D.C.: "Mass Fraud in Mass Torts?" - PointOfLaw Forum

On Thursday of next week the Federalist Society will be sponsoring a lunchtime panel discussion in Washington, D.C. on the policy issues posed by alleged fraud in mass-tort areas such as asbestos, silicosis, fen-phen and mold. Panelists include Cardozo lawprof (and friend of this site) Lester Brickman; Duke lawprof Francis McGovern; and attorneys Patrick Hanlon of Goodwin Proctor and Joseph Rice of Motley Rice. Details are here.

Texas AG apologizes for seizing x-rays - PointOfLaw Forum

Latest in one of the subsidiary subplots of the silicosis saga, via Josh Gerstein at the NYSun: "In their eagerness to investigate what Judge Janis Jack of Corpus Christi described as widespread fraud in the silicosis litigation, attorneys working for the attorney general of Texas, Greg Abbott, used armed law enforcement officers to take the X-rays from a court-established depository in June. The state prosecutors said they acted pursuant to subpoenas signed by county judges, but the move angered Judge Jack, who said the action was unconstitutional and an affront to the jurisdiction of the federal courts."

"Accusations of 'double dipping' surface" - PointOfLaw Forum

Roger Redditt's family has already collected from lawsuits blaming the smoker's death on asbestos, but his lawsuit alleging silicosis was the cause is about to proceed in Mississippi—with both ailments cursorily diagnosed by the now-discredited Ray Harron. The Houston Chronicle (following up on its June 8 two-parter) details plaintiff attorney Richard Laminack's double-dipping—including what appears to be an attempt of a cover-up. (Mike Tolson, Sep. 10).

A thorough report in the Wall St. Journal, entitled "Plaintiffs' Lawsuits Against Companies Sharply Decline" [subscription required to view] notes that in recent months, judges have dismissed or challenged tens of thousands of cases in matters ranging from claims of lung damage from asbestos and silica dust to allegations that the diet drug fen-phen caused heart problems. Moreover, fewer new claims like these are being launched, as state and federal courts and legislators attack the methods used to round up plaintiffs for mass tort litigation.

There is no reliable count of claims, but a look at several key areas -- particularly asbestos and silica claims -- shows large-scale litigation against single products is on the wane.

This year, new securities-fraud class-action lawsuits are down 45%, to 61 through June from 111 in the first half of 2005, according to a study mentioned in the article. This all looks to be (positive) fallout from District Judge Jack's rebuke of phony silicosis cases.

Brickman on silica and asbestos - PointOfLaw Forum

Cardozo Law School Prof. Lester Brickman, a contributor to this site, has a new paper entitled "On the Applicability of the Silica MDL Proceeding to Asbestos Litigation", forthcoming in the Connecticut Insurance Law Journal and also as Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 158. Its SSRN abstract reads as follows:

In previous published writings on asbestos litigation, I discussed how the litigation underwent a radical shift in the mid-1980s from the traditional model of an injured person seeking a lawyer to an entrepreneurial model under which plaintiffs' lawyers and their agents actively recruited hundreds of thousands of potential litigants who could claim workplace exposure to asbestos containing products. I concluded that a substantial percentage of the nonmalignant claimants thus recruited had no disease caused by asbestos exposure as recognized by medical science and no loss of lung function.

Recently, in a multi-district litigation involving approximately 10,000 silicosis claims, U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack has issued findings with regard to silica litigation that largely track those that I had published with respect to asbestos litigation. Because silica litigation involves the same modus operandi as entrepreneurially generated nonmalignant asbestos litigation, the same screening enterprises, doctors, and law firms, it is reasonable to conclude that Judge Jack's findings apply with equal force to asbestos litigation. In this article, I discuss the significance of Judge Jack's findings. I begin by briefly reviewing the elements of the entrepreneurial model of nonmalignant asbestos litigation including screenings, bogus medical evidence created by a comparative handful of X-ray readers and doctors, the use of entrepreneurial witness preparation techniques to implant false memories, the mass filings of claims in a small number of jurisdictions with the intent and effect of overwhelming these courts' dockets, the judicial response of aggregating the claims in order to move them through the judicial system, the perverse effects of these aggregations, and the consequent defense strategies which included inventory settlements totaling billions of dollars though most of the claimants had no actual asbestos-related injury.

"Evidence key to ongoing investigations of alleged fraud in silicosis-related litigation has gone missing from a repository in Texas, fueling a bitter row between a federal judge [Janis Graham Jack] and the state's attorney general [Greg Abbott]." The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein has details.

"The Silicosis Bar Association" - PointOfLaw Forum

Yesterday's WSJ editorializes:

The now-defunct Houston firm of O'Quinn, Laminack & Pirtle, for instance, liked to point out that its firm doesn't handle asbestos cases. (The argument being that it therefore couldn't profit twice.) Former partner Richard Laminack repeated this denial to Congress last week. Yet the very same day, several silicosis defendants filed a motion in Mississippi court claiming that, in 2002, the O'Quinn firm had represented a Roger Redditt in both asbestos and silicosis claims. According to the motion, Mr. Redditt was diagnosed with both diseases by the same Dr. Ray Harron, and the suits were filed within weeks of each other.

The Redditt case also appears to be just one example of how O'Quinn used the same clients twice. Mr. Laminack admitted to Congress that O'Quinn had once financed a separate Houston law firm, Foster Harssema. The Foster firm then handled asbestos claims, while the O'Quinn firm handled silicosis. Mr. Laminack acknowledged that he and another former O'Quinn partner were listed as managers of the Foster firm, and that O'Quinn collected referral fees for asbestos cases that Foster won.

None of these suits would have been possible without a handful of for-hire doctors. Some of these docs have since recanted their diagnoses; others have taken the Fifth. Congress got the lawyers to fill in some blanks about their relationships with these "experts." Campbell Cherry partner Billy Davis confirmed that his law firm had provided doctors with the language they were to use in silicosis diagnoses -- the better to make them admissible in court. Mr. Davis, who made quite a to-do in his opening statement about his firm's high standards, admitted that his firm had only paid screening companies for positive diagnoses.

A webcast of the Congressional hearing is online, and a transcript will be available in 60-90 days.

Public Health's Credibility Crisis - PointOfLaw Columns

By Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H.

(This piece appeared in the May/June 2006 issue of Skeptical Inquirer)

As society grapples with a possible avian influenza epidemic, threats of biological and chemical terrorism, AIDS, cigarette smoking, drug abuse, obesity, and more, it is vital that public health professionals present reliable scientific information and that the credibility of the public health profession be beyond reproach.

In recent years, however, a worrisome trend has emerged: many in the public health community appear to be promoting politics and ideology over sound science. The slippage of public health science into pseudoscience and agenda-driven initiatives has been going on for some time. The problem was addressed in a 1998 article by the Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald. She noted that the field of public health "increasingly identifies itself by the most radical elements within it," noting that meetings of the American Public Health Association feature speakers like Jesse Jackson and promote caucuses on everything from socialism to lesbian/gay and bisexual rights. Mac Donald decries the drift of the public health community from programs based on sound epidemiological science (with a focus on preventing premature deaths from established causes like cigarette smoking) to the pursuit of agendas related to fighting poverty, racism, and sexual discrimination. She laments the flight of public health from sound science, noting that this evolution "squanders the great legacy of public health."

Last year, the credibility of the public health profession came even more sharply under scrutiny—and Mac Donald's predictions about the erosion of public health as a respected and legitimate profession seem more on target than ever before.

Specifically, two major public health institutions selected for their highest awards individuals whose focus in public health was not traditional preventive medicine interventions (for example, promoting immunizations, smoking cessation, disease screening, etc.). Instead, the award recipients' practice of "public health" focused on litigation against corporations. The message emerging from these awards is this: lawsuits against corporations, whether it means suing a soda company to hold it accountable for childhood obesity or litigating against a chemical company for allegedly causing cancer, are now accepted as standard public health practice—as important or more important than traditional public health educational and service programs based on epidemiological findings about the causes of human disease.

The first of these two awards, the Sedgwick Memorial Medal, described by the American Public Health Association as its "oldest and most prestigious award," was given to Dr. Barry Levy in December 2005. The APHA reserves this award for "an individual who has demonstrated a remarkable record of service while working to further public health practice and knowledge." What remarkable public health achievements by Dr. Levy singled him out for this award? Did he promote water fluoridation? Establish smoking cessation clinics? Advocate more widespread influenza vaccinations? Increase the use of lifesaving seatbelts and bike helmets? Encourage people to eat less and exercise more?

No, not exactly. Dr. Levy may be best known as being one of nine physicians who are at the center of a growing scandal over silicosis and asbestos diagnoses in the course of litigation against corporations. At one point, it was revealed that he produced over 1,200 "diagnostic evaluations" in 72 hours, that being a rate of about one diagnosis every four minutes. The clinical criteria for diagnosing silicosis, among other factors, requires: evidence of significant exposure to the substance over a substantial number of years, radiographic evidence of disease, and confirmation of the absence of any other causes of the condition. These criteria were not met by the physicians making the silicosis diagnoses. Specifically, Dr. Levy was accused by Judge Janis Graham Jack, in the course of his role in Texas silicosis litigation of having "an agenda: diagnose silicosis and nothing else." The judge wrote that Dr. Levy "saw his role with respect to these cases as beginning and ending with litigation." Judge Jack ultimately blasted the diagnosing physicians, including Dr. Levy, asserting that their "diagnoses were driven by neither health nor justice: they were manufactured for money."

As summarized in a Wall Street Journal editorial, "The problem is that over the years, as Judge Jack's opinion shows, litigation has turned into a lucrative industry and some doctors have compromised their professional ethics in the process. This has profound consequences...in the area of 'public health' for which Dr. Levy is being honored. As Judge Jack noted, sham diagnoses have huge consequences for the unfortunate individuals who are pulled into these suits. The vast majority are in fact healthy but are saddled with 'diseases' that drive up premiums on their health and life insurance...they must deal with the wrenching emotional toll of being told (falsely) that they have a serious illness."

The bottom line is that Dr. Levy's participation in what the Judge deemed to be sham diagnoses to support litigation did nothing to improve the state of public health. But APHA still felt he was worthy of the organization's highest award.

Erin Brockovich's Prize for Fighting

At least Levy has been an adjunct professor at Tufts and worked at the Centers for Disease Control, though. The second award that raised questions about public heath credibility was more ridiculous.

The Harvard School of Public Health bestowed its 2005 Julius Richmond Award, the school's highest honor, upon environmental activist Erin Brockovich. Since HSPH notes that the Award "seeks to pay tribute to individuals who—like Dr. Richmond—have promoted and achieved high standards for public health," we must ask, as we did with Dr. Levy, what Brockovich accomplished in the field of public health and disease prevention to merit this prestigious award. (The award is named after the Surgeon General in the Carter administration.)

During the 1990s, Erin Brockovich worked as a file clerk for a California law firm. She ascertained that a Pacific Gas and Electric plant in Hinkley, California was leaching trace levels of chromium 6, a rust inhibitor, into Hinkley's water supply and speculated that this exposure might be making local residents sick. She gathered health records and, working with her legal colleagues, identified some 600 prospective plaintiffs to sue PG&E, claiming exposure to chromium 6 caused a spectrum of diseases ranging from nosebleeds to breast cancer, Hodgkin's disease, miscarriages, and spinal deterioration. In 1996, PG&E settled the case for $333 million, ostensibly to compensate "victims" (the story was later portrayed in a motion picture starring Julia Roberts).

There was never any evidence to support Ms. Brockovich's claim that traces of chromium 6 made people sick. The Environmental Protection Agency does consider chromium 6 a human carcinogen, but it's linked to lung cancer only when it is inhaled (not ingested) in high doses, over many years in occupational settings. A 2001 report by the California Department of Health Services, addressing the cancer claim of plaintiffs' lawyers, concluded: "We found no basis in either the epidemiological or animal data published in the literature for concluding that orally ingested chromium 6 is a carcinogen." For what was tantamount to a corruption of science, the attorneys received $133 million in fees; Ms. Brockovich received over $2 million as a "consultant."

In other words, Erin Brockovich received Harvard's highest accolade for her success in what the HSPH announcement called one of "the largest direct action lawsuits of its kind...where [the] giant utility paid one of the largest toxic tort injury settlements in United States history." She was honored for successfully suing a corporation that allegedly harmed the health of Hinkley residents, even though there was never any evidence that the actions of the corporation caused any ill health whatsoever.

Given this, it is understandable Harvard received considerable criticism for choosing Brockovich as the awardee. While qualified, science-oriented public health professionals were saving lives and preventing premature illness—through educational programs on the dangers of smoking, the benefits of lifesaving technologies like seat-belts and bike helmets, the importance of early detection of disease, and more—an individual who never did anything to save lives and protect public health was feted as a public health heroine.

When called upon to justify the award, the dean of HSPH, Dr. Barry Bloom, maintained that Brockovich was being honored for work "on behalf of all of us...especially the residents of Hinkley, CA whose health was adversely affected by toxic substances." When challenged by critics of the award and reminded that there was no evidence at all that the health of residents was "adversely affected" by "toxic substances," Bloom defended his action, noting, "[T]here are always areas of causal uncertainty...but there...is also an urgency to prevent harm and protect the health of people." In referring to "areas of causal uncertainty," Dr. Bloom apparently meant "no causal link was found, but only suspected." If one is to interpret this explanation literally, it appears that Dr. Bloom was arguing that even if there is no evidence of a health threat, it is important to assume there is one—just in case—and take punitive action against those charged with "causing" the harm.

But such a definition of causality violates the basic scientific (and epidemiological) requirement that before one can identify cause and effect, one must identify a cause. Eschewing scientific rationale, Bloom apparently believes that mere allegation suffices to assign causation and condemnation—bringing us back to burning "witches." This hardly seems like the type of educational message one would expect to be communicated at an institution of higher learning in the field of public health

Thousands of public health professionals are at this moment saving lives and preventing premature disease following sound scientific protocols, yet the American Public Health Association and Harvard singled out individuals who instead pursued self-serving financial opportunities through litigation. These awards have stirred controversy (a commentary on the Brockovich incident in Science magazine was titled "Toxic Award?") among scientists who fear the negative impact on public health credibility. And well they should. The APHA and Harvard awards to those whose public heath "specialty" was litigation were egregious examples of poor judgment and, just as Heather Mac Donald wrote, an example of the public health field being dominated "by the most radical elements within it." The question is whether this poor judgment was a fluke or part of an ominous trend. It is time for all public health professionals to reflect upon exactly what should be the basis of our activities: lifesaving interventions based on sound, peer-reviewed science—or political activism and agenda-driven activities that do nothing to prevent premature disease and death.

Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan is president of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org, HealthFactsAndFears.com).

No Sanctions for O'Quinn - PointOfLaw Forum

In a disturbing but not surprising turn of events, Judge Isadore Patrick, of Vicksburg, Mississippi, denied motions for sanctions against a firm that relied on thousands of suspect diagnoses in its silicosis litigation.

Mary Alice Robbins reports in Texas Lawyer that

On June 27, Circuit Court Judge Isadore W. Patrick of Vicksburg, Miss., denied motions for sanctions against the former firm of O'Quinn, Laminack & Pirtle, now called the O'Quinn Law Firm. In March, a dozen of some 72 defendants in McDuff, et al. v. Aearo, et al. and Braxton, et al. v. Aearo, et al. filed motions in the Circuit Court of Sharkey and Issaquena counties, seeking about $165,000 in sanctions from O'Quinn Laminack for allegedly pursuing frivolous claims on behalf of clients and submitting allegedly unreliable diagnoses to support those claims.

The 12 defendants argued in their motions that Patrick should apply findings that U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi made in the MDL proceeding and sanction O'Quinn Laminack. The Mississippi circuit court need not engage in independent fact-finding to recognize that O'Quinn Laminack's conduct in the silicosis litigation necessitates sanctions, the defendants argued.

Read the whole thing here.

Texas AG investigating silicosis fraud - PointOfLaw Forum

Finally some welcome news from a state attorney general's office: Texas AG Greg Abbott has opened a grand jury probe in the ever-widening silicosis-suit scandal. (AP/Business Week via StonePosts).

"A haze of dust and deception" - PointOfLaw Forum

The Houston Chronicle has a big two-parter on the silicosis litigation scandal (parts one, two; sidebar on genuine case of silicosis in man who worked as sandblaster for two decades).

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