Judge upholds punitives award against asbestos attorneys

John O'Brien Mar. 23, 2010, 4:00pm

NATCHEZ, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge says two asbestos lawyers found to have committed fraud against one of the companies they sued must pay $210,000 in punitive damages.

On March 10, a federal jury ordered William Guy and Thomas Brock to pay Illinois Central Railroad $420,000, with half of that classified as punitive damages. The two Mississippi attorneys asked U.S. District Judge David Bramlette to set aside that part of the jury's decision.

"The jury found, by clear and convincing evidence, that Guy and Brock committed actual fraud against the Plaintiff," Bramlette wrote Tuesday.

"The Court finds that there was sufficient evidence to meet the required 'clear and convincing' standard, and further finds that the evidence was such that the issue of punitive damages was properly submitted to the jury."

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.

Mark Behrens, a Washington, D.C., attorney with Shook, Hardy & Bacon, said earlier this month that it is the first time he is aware of asbestos attorneys have been found to have committed fraud.

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.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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