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Mass tort litigation provides ample opportunity for filing spurious claims. Last November, a Philadelphia federal judge sharply criticized two small New York plaintiffs’ firms for allegedly having submitted dubious claims to a fen-phen diet pill settlement trust. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found that 78 claimants did not, in fact, show evidence of heart valve damage, notwithstanding diagnoses to that effect by two physicians retained by the firms. One of those physicians had been paid $725,000 to interpret 725 echocardiograms, while the other was getting a contingent $1500 bonus for each diagnosed claim that was paid by the trust, the judge found. Although it may be shocking, it is very small potatoes compared with the diagnostic irregularities that have been knowingly and routinely tolerated in the asbestos realm for years – all while drawing essentially no press attention.

Consider, for the moment, the Manville Trust, the oldest and largest settlement fund paying asbestos claimants. After asbestos manufacturer Johns-Manville declared bankruptcy in 1982, about $2 billion of its assets were used to form the Manville Trust, a fund that pays asbestos claimants who were exposed to Johns-Manville’s products. Claimants fill out forms identifying the disease category they allegedly fall into, and the trust pays out fixed sums based on a grid schedule – x amount for nonimpairing asbestosis, y for asbestosis with impairment, z for lung cancer, and so on.

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