Asbestos attorneys appealing fraud ruling

John O'Brien Dec. 7, 2010, 4:00am

NATCHEZ, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Two asbestos attorneys in Mississippi are appealing a federal jury's ruling that they committed fraud in litigation against Illinois Central Railroad.

Attorneys William Guy and Thomas Brock were ordered in March to return $210,000 in settlements secured on behalf of two clients and to give another $210,000 in punitive damages to Illinois Central Railroad, which filed a fraud lawsuit against the two in November 2006.

The attorneys are alleged to have concealed their clients' previous involvements in a mass action years before their lawsuits were filed against Illinois Central.

Guy and Brock filed their notice of appeal Friday. They are appealing an order granting prejudgment interest, the jury verdict and the opinion and order overruling their motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial.

Mark Behrens, a Washington, D.C., attorney with Shook, Hardy & Bacon, said in March that it is the first time he is aware of that asbestos attorneys have been found to have committed fraud.

The complaints alleged the company would not have been obligated to pay the settlements had it known that Willie Harried joined the mass action, titled Cosey, in 1995 and Warren Turner in 1996.

Harried and Turner both filed suit against Illinois Central in 2001. The complaints say the attorneys knew of the previous lawsuits.

"Guy and Brock did not disclose Turner's prior asbestos claim in Cosey to Illinois Central at any time before Turner's settlement was consummated and the settlement check was accepted and deposited by Guy and Brock," the Turner complaint says.

U.S. District Judge David Bramlette has not yet ruled on a request by Illinois Central to have Guy and Brock pay its attorneys fees, which are approaching $1 million and will only get higher during the appeal.

Guy and Brock have objected to the amount of hours the company's firm charged it.

Should Bramlette rule against awarding attorneys fees to the Illinois Central, then it will have spent more than twice as much in fees fighting the asbestos lawyers than it recovered from the lawsuit.

Another fraud case stemming from an asbestos lawsuit is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Peirce, Raimond & Coulter of Pittsburgh is accused by CSX Transportation of conspiring to fabricate an asbestos exposure claim.

Former Bridgeport, W.Va., radiologist Ray Harron was accused of diagnosing lung disease in patients who did not have it. CSX says Peirce, Raimond & Coulter then hid those plaintiffs with thousands of others, preventing it from being able to adequately investigate each complaint.

In 2005, federal court judge Janis Graham Jack made national headlines when she uncovered duplicate and fraudulent silica diagnoses in her Texas courtroom. Many of those diagnoses were made by Harron and were made on plaintiffs who had already brought asbestos claims.

In Jack's opinion dismissing the claims, she said "These diagnoses were driven by neither health nor justice - they were manufactured for money."

Following Harron's admission that he did not even make the diagnoses of the patients whose x-rays he read, Jack noted that most of "these diagnoses are more the creation of lawyers than doctors."

U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp ruled for the Peirce firm, deciding that CSX missed the statute of limitations when filing its claim.

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