CSX brings Harron back to forefront in asbestos fraud case

Steve Korris Nov. 8, 2011, 4:13pm

WHEELING, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - CSX Transportation aims to push radiologist Ray Harron to center stage at a fraud and racketeering trial against Pittsburgh lawyers who swamped West Virginia courts with asbestos suits.

A new complaint for the railroad's six-year-old suit against Harron, Robert Peirce, Louis Raimond and Mark Coulter casts Harron as a crook who faked diagnoses by thousands.

Marc Williams of Huntington filed the complaint Oct. 19, writing that Harron lost his medical license in seven states.

He wrote that Harron invoked Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination 392 times in a deposition, and once before a Congressional subcommittee.

The original complaint named former CSX employee Robert Gilkison as lead defendant, alleging he arranged mass screenings of potential plaintiffs.

Gilkison beat the railroad's claims but coughed up evidence that he concealed income from Peirce in order to receive Railroad retirement benefits.

Earlier this year, Gilkison paid $200,000 to settle a claim of cheating the government.

The new complaint omits him as defendant but paints his pension into the picture.

It alleges that Peirce supplied Harron with X-rays from James Corbitt after Corbitt had spent time in prison and paid the government almost $200,000 in restitution.

It alleges that union leader Charles Little pleaded guilty to racketeering charges for his role in providing plaintiffs to Peirce.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp presides over the case. He granted summary judgment to Peirce and Harron in 2009, finding a statute of limitations had run out on the railroad's claims.

CSX appealed, arguing Stamp should have allowed it to amend the complaint.

Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed last December, directing Stamp to allow a new complaint.

Rather than file the one Stamp rejected, CSX lawyers prepared a new one.

They moved for leave to file it in July, and Peirce opposed the motion.

Stamp granted the motion on Oct. 18, and CSX filed the complaint the next day.

Williams wrote that the defendants schemed "to deliberately fabricate and prosecute objectively unreasonable, false and fraudulent asbestos claims against CSX."

He alleged a pattern and practice of bribery, fraud, conspiracy and racketeering.

He wrote that lawyers overburdened courts to deprive CSX of meaningful discovery. He wrote that they leveraged settlements on the threat of mass trials.

"The lawyer defendants knew and expected that over time the fraudulent doctors they utilized would eventually assign positive scores to virtually all screening attendees regardless of whether those individuals actually exhibited signs of asbestos related disease," Williams wrote.

He wrote that Peirce paid Harron per X-ray, rather than per hour.

"This arrangement enhanced defendant Harron's financial incentive to read as many X-rays as possible without regard to established medical protocols," Williams wrote.

He wrote that according to Peirce, Harron's rate of positive readings was 65 percent.

He wrote that bankruptcy trusts stopped paying claims that relied on his readings.

He quoted New York regulators who found Harron "used his medical license to engage in ongoing fraud on the courts."

He identified 11 cases in which Harron reversed a diagnosis from negative to positive after a second X-ray, though the X-rays revealed no changes.

Turning to the lawyers, he wrote that they coached plaintiffs and supplied sample answers to questions CSX would ask.

He wrote that in 2000, they sued in Marshall County for 2,012 plaintiffs, including 1,822 from other states. In 2001, they sued in Marshall County for 917 plaintiffs, including 736 from other states.

In 2002, they sued in Marshall County for 100 plaintiffs, including 77 from other states. In 2003, they sued in Harrison County for 1,438 plaintiffs, including 1,326 from other states.

He wrote that in 2005, U. S. District Judge Janis Jack found Harron diagnosed silicosis on thousands of X-rays he had previously diagnosed as positive for asbestosis. He wrote that the lawyers continued relying on Harron after Jack exposed him.

In 2006, they sued in Harrison County for 253 plaintiffs, including 251 from other states. In 2006, they sued in Harrison County for 605 plaintiffs, including 535 from other states.

He wrote that in 2009, Circuit Judge Arthur Recht ordered Peirce plaintiffs to certify they were aware of their suits and believed the suits were well founded in fact. The lawyers moved to dismiss claims of all but two plaintiffs and Recht granted the motion.

He sought compensatory damages for the cost of processing, defending and settling claims of the 11 whose results Harron reversed. He sought punitive damages, alleging intentional, willful, wanton, malicious and reckless conduct. He sought triple damages.

Williams practices at Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough. Robert Massie, of the same firm, worked on the complaint. So did Samuel Tarry and Mitchell Morris, of McGuire Woods in Richmond, Va.

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