A defendant strikes back

The SE Texas Record Feb. 28, 2009, 4:34am

Beaumont's infamous contingent of asbestos lawyers aren't used to playing defense.

A lawsuit filed this month in federal court could change that. Atlanta-based National Service Industries (NSI) is suing a a group of doctors and asbestos testing companies, accusing them of working in concert to submit fraudulent diagnoses to the court in a scheme to secure millions in settlements.

NSI's lawyers dub the alleged fraudsters the "Mason Enterprise." And their lawsuit names at least one doctor with major ties to some of Beaumont's big name lawyers, including Wayne Reaud, Brent Coon, and Walter Umphrey.

From past stories you may remember Dr. Jay Segarra, previously accused of falsely diagnosing thousands of cases for money.

Defendants in a Philadelphia court asked a judge to exclude his "expert" testimony because he hadn't followed standards, calling Segarra "a professional witness who, in conjunction with many of the most notorious for-profit mass screening companies in the country, has 'diagnosed' an astonishing number of would-be plaintiffs with asbestosis and/or silicosis-not for any valid medical reason, but solely for profit."

Plaintiff lawyer Coon told Forbes Magazine this week he stands behind Dr. Segarra and his work.

Coon may have a chance to vouch for him soon enough in a courtroom. In discovery, NSI's lawyers say they plan to ferret out everyone involved in the "Mason Enterprise," including those wealthy trial lawyers presenting the cases in court.

There's much at stake here, beyond the $95 million in asbestos settlements NSI paid and wants back.

In days past a group of asbestos lawyers have made millions suing early and often, on behalf of as many asbestos plaintiffs as they could attract. Now questions are being raised about the validity of the testing, the process of finding the plaintiffs and whether some of those claiming sickness were sick.

A trial lawyer assembly line churned out tens of thousands of asbestos cases, each worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when settled. These lawyers couldn't find all those plaintiffs on their own.

The NSI case represents the first comprehensive attempt by a defendant to examine that assembly line and the players involved. Here's hoping Coon and company are proud of their handiwork, because it soon may be on public display in a federal courthouse.

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