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A Florida state court judge has pledged to “ride herd” on alleged fraudulent silica claims, including those before him generated by a medical screening company that he said “reeks of fraud.” The recent comments by Broward County Circuit Judge David H. Krathen echo those made last June by U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack in the federal silica multidistrict litigation in Texas. In re Silica Products Liability Litigation, No. 03md1553 (S.D. Texas). Jack asserted that most of the silica claims before her, which she remanded to state court, were “manufactured for money” by plaintiffs’ lawyers, doctors and screening companies. Krathen’s actions are the latest example of a crackdown on silica litigation across the country and sparked strong reaction from plaintiffs counsel, who charge that defendants are trying to taint their cases based on conduct elsewhere. But Krathen brushed aside those concerns, saying he would approve a strict case-management order that applied Florida’s new medical criteria legislation relating to silica and asbestos cases. In re Silica Litigation, No. 05-002855 (Broward Co., Fla., Cir. Ct.). The court will give plaintiffs counsel 30 days to provide the defense with qualified doctors’ medical diagnoses of each client’s silica impairment and the specific companies they intend to hold liable, and 60 days to have screened claimants re-examined by a qualified doctor. “[I]n the years I’ve practiced law, the toughest time was getting a good, legitimate case bought into by the jury because of all of the horrible publicity that comes out from the negative kind of stuff that goes on in that MDL,” said Krathen, referring to the federal litigation. Several plaintiffs lawyers, doctors and X-ray screening companies involved in the federal silica MDL are reportedly the subject of federal grand jury proceedings in New York. Silicosis is lung damage caused by inhaling dust that contains crystalline silica particles found in concrete, masonry and rock. FAMILIAR NAMES Krathen said he was concerned when some of the same names turned up in cases before him, such as N&M, a Moss Point, Miss., mobile X-ray screening company, and Dr. Ray A. Harron, N&M’s exclusive X-ray reader, who sought counsel during an evidentiary hearing before Jack when the validity of his readings was questioned. Daniel J. Mulholland of Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy in Jackson, Miss., who represents silica defendants in the federal MDL and elsewhere, told Krathen that at least 66 of the 111 claims are “retreads” — asbestos claims refiled as silica claims, which Jack found suspect. Susan J. Cole of Bice Cole in Miami, who represents silica defendants Moldex Metric Inc. and Lone Star Industries and is involved in all 111 cases, said she is gratified that the court found it “reasonable and necessary to weed out the cases that don’t belong in the system.” But David A. Jagolinzer of Miami’s Ferraro Associates, who has 61 plaintiffs in the Broward litigation, called it ludicrous to compare the Broward County cases with the 10,000 cases in the federal MDL. “For [the defense] to say that what the doctors and lawyers did in other places has something to do with what’s going on here is just ridiculous. There’s no crisis down here, no fraud down here in south Florida,” Jagolinzer said. He said that despite a defense attempt to influence the court and the public through a “massive media campaign,” and despite a higher standard of proof that the Broward plaintiffs now must meet, he is confident that the truth will come out in the end. Ohio, Georgia, Florida and Texas enacted laws last year establishing medical-criteria rules for asbestos and silica litigation. Similar legislation is pending in Virginia and South Carolina.

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