3rd Circuit Revives Case Against Asbestos Class Action Lawyers

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a proposed class action suit against a group of lawyers from southern states brought by more than 2,600 former clients from northern states who say they were cheated out of their fair share of $400 million in asbestos personal injury settlements in the Mississippi state courts when the lawyers gave larger payouts to southern plaintiffs.

Reversing a lower court’s decision that dismissed the suit, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth issued a stern lecture to lawyers about the duty of loyalty.

“We are embarrassed to have to explain a matter so elementary to the legal profession that it speaks for itself: All attorneys in a co-counsel relationship individually owe each and every client the duty of loyalty. For it to be otherwise is inconceivable,” Roth wrote in Huber v. Taylor.

The case provides a rare glimpse into the high-stakes world of asbestos litigation in which plaintiffs are termed “inventory” and settlements often involve hundreds or even thousands of cases.

Details here from The Legal Intelligencer via Law.com.


Reading X-Rays in Asbestos Suits Enriched Doctor

Dr. Harron

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – About a decade ago, a radiologist in this small town gradually stopped seeing patients and instead adopted what turned out to be a much more lucrative practice: reading X-rays full time.

The doctor, Ray A. Harron, now 73 years old, reviewed as many as 150 X-rays a day, or one every few minutes, and produced medical reports for $125 each. Some of his reports supported claims by more than 75,000 people seeking compensation for lung injury caused by inhalation of asbestos. For his work, he probably earned millions of dollars over the years.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers who have used Dr. Harron’s services recently did not return phone calls seeking comment. But 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. They contend that Dr. Harron’s X-ray evaluations are unreliable at best, fraudulent at worst.

The defense lawyers are not the only ones who have questioned Dr. Harron’s work. This summer, a federal judge found that Dr. Harron “failed to write, read, or personally sign” reports supporting 6,350 claims by people saying they had inhaled silica, another potentially dangerous material.

Details here from the New York Times.


Lawyers Seek New Strategies for ‘Sea Change’ in Asbestos Torts

Life may never be the same for lawyers who litigate silica and asbestos cases.

With the passing of the World War II shipyard generation, which made up the bulk of past asbestos cases, and more than 80 asbestos defendants in bankruptcy or out of business, plaintiffs are digging deeper to find new defendants in specialized industries responsible for different kinds of asbestos illness.

It won’t be easy.

Details here from the National Law Journal via Law.com.


Nanotech, The New Asbestos?

“Nanomania,” one could call it — the growing excitement and anxiety about super-small gadgets that might transform our world for better or worse.

Two decades ago, techno-visionaries titillated the world with their prophecy of machines so small — measurable in nanometers, or billionths of a meter — that they’d be invisible to the naked eye. Nano-robots, they speculated, would patrol your bloodstream and attack viruses, cholesterol and tumors; or they’d clean up oil slicks and toxic spills; or they’d become micro-“spies” for monitoring enemy movements without being seen.

For now, however, those science-fiction-like dreams remain just that — dreams. Today’s nano-visionaries face a less heady dilemma: How to reassure the public, environmental groups, regulatory agencies and lawsuit-fearing insurance companies that nanotechnologies won’t become environmental-political-legal nightmares like DDT, thalidomide and asbestos.

Details here from the San Francisco Chronicle.


New Georgia Law May Nix Asbestos Cases

Lawyers are gearing up for a constitutional challenge to a new state law that could remove nearly 3,000 asbestos cases from Fulton County dockets.

The law was designed to stem the tide of out-of-state asbestos claims being filed in Georgia, said its primary sponsor, Rep. David E. Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

“We were seeing a huge number of people that were nonresidents of Georgia and that had not been exposed to asbestos or silica in Georgia who were suing in Georgia courts,” said Ralston. . . .

[O]ne plaintiffs’ attorney, David P. Bevon of Motley Rice in Mount Pleasant, S.C., said out-of-state plaintiffs filed in Georgia because the law here was more favorable than in other states for injuries that occurred years or even decades ago. He also noted that some defendants, such as Georgia-Pacific, are based here.

The new law, signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on April 12 and codified at chapter 51-14 of the Georgia Code, prevents future suits from out-of-state plaintiffs. But because it applies retroactively, the constitutional fight is over the impact the law could have on cases that already have been filed.

The law added a host of new requirements for asbestos claims to survive in the state’s courts. Among the new rules, a plaintiff must present “prima facie evidence of physical impairment” that shows “to a reasonable degree of certainty” that exposure to asbestos was “a substantial contributing factor” to the plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have until Oct. 19 — or 180 days from the enactment of the bill — to file affidavits establishing the prima facie evidence.

Apparently, those affadavits are proving hard to come by. Details here from the Fulton County Daily Report via Law.com.


Asbestos Verdict Against Caterpillar Is a First, Plaintiff Counsel Says

A San Francisco jury says a bulldozer operator with mesothelioma should be paid $2.2 million for his injuries in what a plaintiff attorney calls the first verdict in the nation involving asbestos exposure from Caterpillar Inc. machinery.

Philip A. Harley of Paul, Hanley & Harley said Caterpillar’s portion of the judgment should be about $900,000 because the jury found it only partially liable.

According to Harley, plaintiff Daniel Johnson was exposed to asbestos from Caterpillar bulldozers while doing brake work and other maintenance. Harley said in a post-verdict statement that Johnson was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2004 and was recently told he will only live another three to six months.

Details here from the Asbestos Litigation Reporter via FindLaw.


Claims Surge as U.S. Lawyers See Silica as the New Asbestos

AMERICAN companies that produce silica, an ingredient of builder�s sand, have seen a massive surge in lawsuits this year as personal injury and class action lawyers claim that the dusty substance could be as deadly as asbestos.

The number of claims rose to about 30,000 this year from fewer than 10,000 last year. One company, US Silica, has been hit with 22,000 claims, up from 3,505 a year ago.

The Times of London reports this dreadful news here.


Harry Wartnick, ‘Mr. Asbestos,’ Felled by Heart Attack at 55

Anyone who has ever had a brush with asbestos litigation in San Francisco will instantly recognize Wartnick’s name. And, though many asbestos plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t have the best reputation among judges and the defense bar, Harry did, as this obituary attests. My favorite part of his obit is this:

What people might not know about Wartnick is that he was colorblind.

“He’d come to the golf course or the office and he’d have on one sock that was bright red and one sock that was bright yellow, and lime green pants,” said Lawther, his former boss. “He was a fashion nightmare. It was the funniest goddamn thing, pardon my language, I’ve ever seen.”

Harry, we hardly knew ye.


Nationally Known Asbestos Litigator Accepts Disbarment

“The referee in the attorney discipline case against prominent Miami class-action lawyer Louis S. Robles has recommended that he be disbarred, and Robles has agreed to this in a no contest plea. . . . [The referee] found that Robles engaged in a pattern of misconduct by failing to properly communicate with his clients, failing to ‘properly and timely’ remit funds due his clients, and charging clients ‘excessive and improper’ costs. Robles is nationally known for his class-action and mass torts work in representing people who claim they were injured from asbestos exposure,” the New York Lawyer reports here.