Texas firms may be implicated in radiologists probe

Steve Korris Mar. 5, 2009, 10:00am

JACKSON, Miss. � Just as X-rays allow patients to see through skin, X-ray lawsuits allow Americans to see through asbestos litigation that swallowed profits of American corporations and carried away their assets through bankruptcy courts.

Now that judges have started holding radiologists accountable for phony asbestos suits, lawyers who grew richer than the radiologists face accountability too.

National Services Industries, which sued two radiologists in state court at Lexington on Feb. 9, sued three more at U. S. district court in Jackson three days later. NSI sued a single asbestos lawyer in federal court at Jackson but implicated many others.

In the Mississippi state complaint, Marcy Croft of Jackson reserved 20 John Doe docket spaces for law firm defendants, and in her federal suit she listed that many targets and more.

The list includes several of the well-known asbestos firms in Beaumont and other parts of Texas, like Reaud, Morgan & Quinn; Brent Coon & Associates; Baron & Budd; Heard, Robins, Cloud & Lubel; Lanier Parker & Sullivan; Provost Umphrey; and Williams Bailey.

The suits allege that respiratory services ran a racket that manufactured asbestos claims. NSI claims it lost $80 million to Respiratory Testing Services names radiologists Ray Harron and his son Andrew Harron.

The federal suit connects Respiratory Testing Services to radiologists Ray Segarra, James Ballard and Phillip Lucas. Dr. Segarra has been used by many Texas law firms.

The commotion over asbestos caught the attention of Forbes magazine, which covered the Mississippi suits on Feb. 25.

Brent Coon, of Beaumont, said he would vouch for Segarra.

"I have had him look at a lot of cases and the majority of them come back negative," the magazine quoted Coon saying.

Pressure on Segarra increased on Feb. 24, when a federal judge responsible for about 90,000 asbestos suits stripped him of physician patient privilege.

District Judge Eduardo Robreno of Philadelphia ordered Segarra and radiologists Laxminaraya Rao and Richard Bernstein to answer defense subpoenas.

"Doctor Segarra was not consulted by the plaintiffs in order to provide treatment," Robreno wrote.

"Rather, he was consulted by plaintiffs to provide a diagnosis, which would be relied upon by the individual plaintiffs to support a personal injury claim," he wrote.

"Therefore, under the circumstances, no physician patient privilege attached to the information obtained from plaintiffs by Dr. Segarra during the screening examinations," he wrote.

Even if it applied, he wrote, they waived it by suing.

"Plaintiffs have essentially released to the world their own medical information and waived any privilege to the privacy of that information," he wrote.

Robreno refused to define Segarra and Rao as health care providers for purposes of federal law that protects privacy of patient records.

Ray Harron faces two suits at once for his role in suits against CSX railroad. Harron was the target of the 2005 investigation by U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack of Corpus Christi.

Jack questioned Harron's frequent findings of both silicosis and asbestos in plaintiffs, a rare combination of medical conditions.

Harron's part in mass screenings brought problems with asbestos litigation to national attention, and resulted in the loss of Harron's Texas medical license.

In February at Wheeling, W. Va., U. S. District Judge Frederick Stamp denied a motion to dismiss Harron from a lawsuit CSX filed in 2005.

The suit seeks damages from the Pittsburgh law firm of Peirce, Raimond and Coulter, and from Harron.

On March 3, CSX moved to compel Harron to produce records of his X-ray income.

"Such compensation would be admissible at trial to demonstrate Harron's motive to continue receiving income from the lawyer defendants and other law firms," wrote CSX counsel David Bolen, of Huddleston Bolen in Huntington, W. Va.

He seeks invoices Harron sent to Peirce. "This information is relevant to CSX's claim that Harron was compensated on a per X-ray basis," he wrote.

Harron faces a parallel suit in federal court at Pittsburgh, where Lumbermens Mutual denies responsibility for any judgment against Peirce and Harron in Wheeling. Lumbermens Mutual argues that its policy didn't cover racketeering.

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