WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia radiologist and two Pennsylvania attorneys who were involved in thousands of asbestos lawsuits have been found guilty of civil racketeering for conspiring to fabricate claims against CSX Transportation.
The Wheeling jury on Thursday ordered Pittsburgh attorneys Robert Peirce and Louis Raimond and Bridgeport radiologist Ray Harron to pay CSX more than $429,000, which could be tripled because they were convicted of civil racketeering charges. They also were found guilty of conspiracy and fraud.
"It was clear from this verdict that the jury refused to endorse cheating in lawsuits," said Huntington attorney Marc Williams, who helped represent CSX.
Peirce filed more than 14,000 asbestos cases against Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX. Harron diagnosed tens of thousands of asbestos claims for the attorneys.
Harron's diagnoses were first called into question in 2005 by a judge in Texas that heard cases involving the lung disease silicosis. CSX filed its lawsuit later that year, claiming Kentucky railroad worker Earl Baylor was fraudulently diagnosed with asbestosis.
At the trial, which began Dec. 11, CSX attorneys argued that Harron had initially found hundreds of patients clear of asbestosis, but later switched his diagnosis. It presented 11 of those cases.
Peirce defended his aggressive filing of asbestos claims, saying that CSX could only claim that 11 out of the thousands his firm had filed were without any reasonable basis. He presented radiologists and other witnesses who testified the x-rays in those 11 cases were consistent with asbestosis and that "we not only had a reasonable basis to file the lawsuits but we were obligated to do so," he said.
"We are convinced the jury got it wrong and we strongly disagree with the verdict, but as lawyers we recognize and respect the jury system and legal process," Peirce said in a statement.
Attorneys for Raimond and Harron did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.
The case was thrown out in 2009 when a federal judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired. But a federal appeals court in Virginia reinstated it the following year.
The verdict marked the second time this year that attorneys have been convicted for committing fraud during asbestos lawsuits. Mississippi lawyers William Guy and Thomas Brock had sued Montreal-based Canadian National Railway Co., or CN, on behalf of nearly 170 former employees who claimed asbestos made them sick. The railroad company later sued, claiming the lawyers knew that at least two of their clients lied about being involved in an earlier asbestos case.