W.Va. doctor at center of asbestosis, silicosis fracas gives up Texas license

Chris Dickerson Apr. 20, 2007, 3:00pm


CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A West Virginia physician accused of making thousands of silicosis diagnoses for personal injury attorneys has surrendered his Texas medical license.

Ray Harron, 74, of Bridgeport no longer will practice medicine in the Lone Star State and will not seek to renew the license he has had for 44 years, according to an Associated Press story. Harron's license expires May 31, according to the report.

The Texas Medical Board was investigating violations of the Medical Practice Act based on federal court testimony in 2005 concerning silicosis suits.

Harron reportedly was paid millions by lawyers to diagnose potential asbestos victims. He sometimes did it at the rate of one patient per minute, reports say. The New York Times has reported that Harron made 75,000 diagnoses since the mid-1990s, commonly reading as many as 150 x-rays per day, at a rate of $125 each.

"In the eyes of defense lawyers fighting some of those claims, Dr. Harron was not a professional rendering an independent opinion, but a vital cog in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit machine," The New York Times said of Harron. "They contend that Dr. Harron's X-ray evaluations are unreliable at best, fraudulent at worst.

The Times also said that in 2005, Federal Judge Janis Graham Jack found that Harron ''failed to write, read, or personally sign'' reports supporting 6,350 claims by people saying they had inhaled silica, another potentially dangerous material.

Testifying before Jack, Harron admitted to making diagnoses from X-rays taken by a screening company using mobile machines in parking lots. There were no doctors supervising the X-rays. The owners of the screening company said they were working for lawyers.

Harron said he did not physically examine the patients. He also testified that secretaries interpreted his X-ray readings into diagnoses letters that were rubber-stamped with his signature and mailed without his final read.

He also testified to making silicosis diagnoses in the same patients he had once diagnosed with asbestosis. Experts say it is very rare for a person to have both diseases.

Jack wrote that the diagnoses relied on X-rays and on medical histories taken by screening companies or law firms, not on physical examinations, as the reports under his name claimed.

"When Dr. Harron first examined 1,807 plaintiffs' X-rays for asbestos litigation," Jack wrote, "he found them all to be consistent only with asbestosis and not with silicosis." But after re-examining X-rays of the same 1,807 people "for silica litigation, Dr. Harron found evidence of silicosis in every case."

Harron also has licenses to practice medicine in West Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Mississippi, California, and Hawaii. His licenses in those states could be affected by the Texas surrender.

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