Marilyn Tennissen Mar. 12, 2013, 10:39am

Beaumont’s high profile plaintiffs’ attorney Brent Coon might have committed fraud when submitting his clients’ claims to asbestos trusts, according to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal.

The prestigious business publication has started a series on the state of asbestos litigation, the longest mass tort in American legal history. On Monday, the first article focused on payouts to mesothelioma victims from the enormous trust funds established by bankrupted companies that manufactured or used asbestos products, like Johns Manville.

But plaintiffs claiming illnesses from asbestos exposure can also file lawsuits against solvent companies in state courts, without disclosing claims against or payments from asbestos trusts.

The WSJ wrote that during its investigation, it discovered discrepancies between claims made to the trusts and claims in state lawsuits, and named one of Coon’s cases as an example.

“One law firm that made disparate filings was Brent Coon and Associates of Beaumont, Texas,” wrote Dionne Searcy for the WSJ on March 11. “Mr. Coon, who plays guitar in a rock band and is known for Christmas parties featuring performers such as Foreigner, represented Richard Baker, a Nevada electrician and smoker whose death certificate and pathology reports say he died of lung cancer in 2005. His claim forms to at least seven trusts say he died of lung cancer, as did his sweeping lawsuit against 42 solvent companies filed in state court in Harris County, Texas. The suit, stuck in a gummed up asbestos docket, is still pending.

“But to the Manville trust, Mr. Coon's firm said that its client had mesothelioma—despite pathology reports submitted to the trust that listed Mr. Baker's disease as lung cancer, a distinctly different diagnosis. In December 2004, the trust accepted Mr. Baker's mesothelioma claim and offered him the standard value it assigns to that disease, a payout of about $17,500. Had his disease been listed as lung cancer the value would have been $4,750.”

"What we try to do with our clients is get them what we can, where we can," Coon, who sits on the advisory committee overseeing the roughly $1 billion in the trust set up by Combusting Engineering Inc., said to the Journal. "Since we have thousands and thousands of these cases, we get work histories and their medical histories, and I'm sure there are errors made from time to time."

He told the newspaper that “his files for the case were likely tucked away in storage.”

Coon said his clients "are victims of the worst corporate mass genocide in history, one that has taken the lives of millions of industrial workers and their innocent families…and they get off making token payments for what they have done to these people."

As part of its investigation, The Wall Street Journal reviewed trust claims and court cases of roughly 850,000 people filed since the late 1980s until as recently as 2012.

“With dozens of asbestos-related manufacturers forced into bankruptcy, a burgeoning swath of the legal action has shifted out of the courtroom and into a nebulous world of trusts that evaluate claims and authorize payouts with little outside scrutiny.”

The Journal’s research also found that more than 2,000 applicants to the Manville trust said they were exposed to asbestos working in industrial jobs before they were 12 years old.

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