Major news on the asbestos front: the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, one of the most powerful prosecutorial offices in the country, has convened a grand jury to probe allegations of fraud in the mass prosecution of silica and asbestos claims in Texas and elsewhere. In recent court proceedings in Corpus Christi, doctors admitted that they had never met or interviewed claimants for whom they had provided written diagnoses of silicosis, often after the same claimants had been accorded diagnoses of asbestosis. Federal judge Janis Graham Jack said one doctor’s testimony was raising “great red flags of fraud”. (Jonathan D. Glater, “Civil Suits Over Silica in Texas Become a Criminal Matter in New York”, New York Times, May 18). Ted Frank has been following the developing story in detail at Point of Law: Feb. 2, Feb. 17, Feb. 27, Mar. 2, Mar. 14, Mar. 16, Mar. 21, and other entries on that site’s asbestos page. This site’s product liability page has also extensively covered dubious litigation of this sort (examples: Jan. 21 and Aug. 5, 2004, Sept. 13 and Nov. 12, 2003 and earlier items).
Ted has the latest on the unfolding silicosis-diagnosis scandal over at Point of Law. (The quoted phrase is from federal judge Janis Graham Jack, reacting to revelations about doctors’ mass misdiagnosis of workers.) Also, umpteen more posts about medical malpractice — lots of reaction is still coming in to our critique of the New York Times on the subject.
I’ve just posted at Point of Law the second and I assume final installment of my long critique of Tuesday’s New York Times article on medical malpractice insurance. The Times coverage contended — in assertions picked up and repeated by many a credulous blogger — that the premium levels charged to doctors bear no relationship to payouts or to legal limits on damage recoveries. Part I of the critique, again, is here.
While you’re at it, you really should be reading Point of Law every day if you have any interest in the more serious side of litigation and its reform, or just want to follow Ted’s or my writing (we both post regularly there). Among the topics you would have learned about recently: the difference, among civil litigators, between “chicken catchers and chicken pluckers“; Colorado lawmakers may restore to homeowners the right not to be sued over “open and obvious dangers” on their property; FDA panel recommends letting Vioxx back on market; a new study of class actions by Yale’s George Priest; medical malpractice law in the U.K.; Sen. Biden praises “bottom-feeders”; silicosis diagnosis scandal; a new legal ethics blog; tons more stuff on the Class Action Fairness Act, including this, this and this; problems with that much-ballyhooed report on medical costs supposedly causing half of consumer bankruptcies; and the Wall Street Journal on loser-pays.
Mississippi is far outpacing the rest of the country in silica litigation (see Sept. 13): “More than 17,000 plaintiffs in this state have sued U.S. Silica, a leading producer of silica sand, for allegedly causing them to develop an incurable lung disease.” One lawsuit filed at the courthouse in Macon, Miss. “was filed by 4,200 plaintiffs, close to double the 2,461 residents in this Noxubee County town.” Less than one percent of the plaintiffs are actually from Mississippi, the others having been brought there by their lawyers to sue. Critics say law firms are using mass solicitation and screening techniques to recruit thousands of claimants with no actual disability, as was done earlier with asbestos. One silica plaintiff, “62-year-old Noah Myers Bufkin of Lucedale, said he was diagnosed in a mass screening as having silicosis, although he can’t say for sure he has any symptoms. …The same screening company diagnosed him as having asbestosis seven or eight years ago, he said. He estimates he has received about $10,000 from that suit. …. He doesn’t know of any symptoms he’s suffering from silicosis or asbestosis. ‘I’m saving up in case I do have a problem,’ he said. ‘For a poor fella like me, every little bit helps.'” (Jerry Mitchell, “Silica suits latest to hit Miss. courts”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Oct. 19).
Plaintiffs’ lawyers are trying to turn silica into the next asbestos; though government statistics indicate reduced health problems from the critical industrial sand used to make glass, fiberglass, paints, and ceramics, claims are skyrocketing. Insurers are accusing lawyers of bringing claims of silicosis on behalf of people who have already recovered for alleged asbestosis for the same symptoms. (Jonathan Glater, New York Times, Sep. 5). Using a prominent search engine to find silicosis on the web has a strong chance of leading one to one Texas personal injury law firm or another.