Harron, others named in Miss. suit over asbestos scheme

By Chris Dickerson | Feb 13, 2009

Ray Harron

LEXINGTON, Miss. -- An embattled West Virginia radiologist, his son and others have been sued in Mississippi on racketeering and other charges related to an alleged scheme involving asbestos screenings for lawsuits across the nation.

Ray Harrron and Andrew Harron are two of the defendants named in a lawsuit filed Feb. 9 in Holmes County Circuit Court by National Service Industries, also known as North Brothers.

"The primary cause of this action is a widespread unlawful enterprise engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity across state lines and a conspiracy to engage in racketeering activity involving numerous RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) predicate acts for at least the past 10 calendar years," the complaint states. "The predicate acts include mail fraud and wire fraud ..."

Since 1995, the defendants "have schemed to generate false medical test results, false medical reports and false diagnoses to substantiate tens of thousands of personal injury cases filed against plaintiff and other similarly situated companies or bankruptcy trusts involving allegations of asbestos related disease."

NSI says the defendants engaged in this "unlawful scheme for the purpose of monetary gain by creating fraudulent medical documentation to make the individuals that they recruited and 'screened' appear to suffer from asbestos-related disease to extract money from plaintiff and others through the court system and/or claims settlements."

NSI describes the acts of Harron and the other defendants as "mass assembly-line screenings of persons suspected of work-related exposure to products containing asbestos."

Others defendants named are N&M Inc., Charlie Heath Mason, Molly Ruth Netherland, Christopher Linn Taylor and yet unnamed John Doe defendants 1-20.

The defendants' screenings typically included the generation of exposure histories, chest x-rays, accompanying reads by physicians, physical exams, pulmonary function tests and diagnoses by Harron and other defendants for personal injury law firms.

"These law firms then used this purported "medical evidence" to file and/or settle thousands of asbestos-related injury claims," the complaint states. "Defendants' screenings were massive recruitment programs carried out for personal injury law firms and attorneys on targeted populations of current and former industrial and construction workers with the sole purpose of generating a phenomenal volume of potential claimants as clients for these law firms."

The lawsuit says the defendants spent more than $1.5 million "aggressively marketing" their screening services to their law firm and attorney "customers" and on mass advertisements soliciting individual subjects for screening.

"The screenings were all about the money for Defendants and the law firm customers who paid them and not about providing health care," the 76-page complaint states. "Defendants did not consider the individuals they screened as patients but instead as 'inventory.' There was no physician-patient privilege and no rendering of medical treatment to those individuals screened by Defendants."

The defendants then turned over the "purported medical records and diagnostic reports" from the screenings to law firms and attorneys that "sponsored" and paid for the screenings and not to the individuals screened and diagnosed with asbestos-related disease.

"The diagnoses generated from Defendants' scheme were manufactured for money," NSI claims.

Law firms and attorneys that specialize in asbestos filings seem to be on NSI's radar, too.

"Certain law firms and attorneys, including John Doe defendants, specialized in garnering clients on whose behalf the firms asserted asbestos related (and silicosis) personal injury claims," the complaint states. "These law firms made a practice of inundating the judicial system and asbestos litigation defendants with voluminous claims on behalf of large numbers of claimants, most of whom had little, if any, injury.

"These firms then alleged injuries against a wholesale shopping list of multiple defendants, such list is more the result of the particular asbestos personal injury firm filing the claims than any alleged injury. This scheme often had the effect of extracting mass nuisance-value settlements from asbestos litigation defendants ... as opposed to what would occur in 'traditional' single case tort litigation."

NSI says individual settlements might have been "modest," but the lawyers still got rich by piling up 30 percent to 40 percent of each of the settlements.

"Many asbestos personal injury law firms ... became enormously wealthy, with many individual attorneys becoming multi-millionaires," the complaint states. "This result created phenomenal financial incentives for defendants and their law firm customers to inflate the numbers of potential asbestos claimants who brought claims for settlements."

This assembly-line enterprise, as the complaint states, led to millions of dollars for the defendants for "fabricating bogus 'medical evidence' for asbestos litigation claims."

"In conjunction with their law firm and attorney customers, defendants used common marketing ploys to recruit claimants and then fabricated medical records and reports for the prospective claimants with x-ray interpretations, exposure histories and lung impairment assessments as part of their bogus diagnoses," the complaint states. "The asbestos personal injury law firms who were Defendants' customers then packaged the cases into mass tort claims and, using the false medical records, overwhelmed the courts, NSI, other asbestos litigation defendants and asbestos bankruptcy trusts with voluminous claims to extract settlements."

The plaintiff says the defendants had intent to defraud and injure NSI and other companies by "systematically, intentionally and/or recklessly deviated from medically sound and universally established standards for medical testing, evaluation and diagnosis of asbestos-related disease to create false 'positive' results, i.e., results which falsely indicate the presence of asbestos related disease."

"Specifically, defendants systematically, intentionally and/or recklessly disregarded well established standards and regulations for interpreting chest x-rays, taking and recording asbestos exposure/work histories, medical and smoking histories, administering x-rays, PFTs and other tests, and assessing asbestos-related diseases," the complaint states. "In doing so, defendants generated false x-ray reads, false test results, false medical reports and false diagnoses which are not bona fide or genuine statements of the medical conditions of the individuals recruited and screened by defendants.

"Defendants delivered and submitted or facilitated or reasonably could foresee delivery of submission of the FALSE MEDICAL EVIDENCE with the intent to extract payments from NSI, as well as other companies. ...

"As part of the scheme, these law firms paid defendants millions of dollars for their screening services. In turn, under lucrative contingency fee agreements with their asbestos claimant clients, of which the defendants recruited many, these asbestos personal injury law firms and attorneys earned substantial fees through the filing and settlement of such claims based on defendants' FALSE MEDICAL EVIDENCE."

NSI says it has paid millions of dollars to settle asbestos-related claims supported by the defendants' false medical evidence.

Mason and Netherland together ran N&M Inc. -- a medical test screening company -- from Pascagoula, Miss., but it operated in others states. The company was dissolved in 2007.

Taylor, the complaint says, worked for N&M. He solicited law firms and recruited screening subjects, among other duties.

Ray Harron, whose last known address is Bridgeport, W.Va., was a certified B-reader of x-rays. His son, Andrew Harron, is a Wisconsin physician and a certified B-reader.

The complaint also provides background on how the defendants allegedly began providing these screenings and details U.S. District Judge Janis Jack's 2005 reprimand against trial lawyers during a 2005 silicosis tort case. Her findings triggered investigations by a congressional committee, federal prosecutors in New York and the Texas attorney general.

"In 1995, Dr. Ray Harron ceased clinical practice as a radiologist and began exclusively performing x-ray evaluations for asbestos, silica and black lung disease litigation," NSI's complaint states. "Dr. Ray Harron claims he had reviewed chest x-rays in about 600,000 cases by 1999. Dr. Ray Harron quickly became a highly paid, high-volume asbestos and silica screening doctor by intentionally or recklessly disregarding accepted medical practices."

NSI seeks joint and several compensatory damages, punitive damages, pre-judgment interest, reimbursement of court costs, expenses and attorney fees.

NSI is represented by Jackson, Miss., attorneys Marcy B. Croft, Walter G. Watkins Jr. and Ashley E. Calhoun, as well as the Denver trio of David M. Setter, John M. Seebohm and Jeanette S. Eirich.

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