A verdict against two Pittsburgh attorneys and a doctor has been tripled to $1.3 million in a case where they were found liable by a federal civil jury in West Virginia for violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by prosecuting 11 fraudulent asbestos claims by railroad employees against CSX Transportation.
On September 25, U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. of the Northern District of West Virginia granted CSX’s motion to amend or correct judgment, tripling the verdict to about $1.3 million from the $429,240 the jury originally awarded to CSX in CSX Transportation v. Peirce.
The defendants in the case are attorneys Robert N. Peirce Jr. and Louis A. Raimond and Dr. Ray A. Harron.
Stamp wrote in his opinion that CSX was entitled to a trebled judgment under RICO.
“This court finds that judgment may be corrected or amended … as an amended judgment would accurately state the law requiring trebling of damages under RICO,” Stamp said. “Accordingly, this court grants CSX’s motion … to reflect the statutorily-mandated trebling of the RICO damages.”
Harron’s counsel, Jerald E. Jones of West & Jones in Clarksburg, W.Va., said that the defendants are planning to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
“On first go-around in this case, Stamp issued summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Afterward, CSX appealed to the Fourth Circuit,” Jones said.
Jones commented that the defendants’ lawyers were shocked at the jury verdict, after the suit had been brought back to Stamp’s courtroom.
Melanie Cost, of CSX corporate communications, said, “The court’s decision to reject a new trial and triple the damages validates the jury’s verdict that refused to endorse cheating in litigation and made a strong statement that our system of justice must be fair, clean and honest.”
The Legal reported in December 2012 that the defendants were found liable for fraud-based RICO claims, common-law fraud and fraud conspiracy claims. The jury also rejected the lawyer defendants’ counterclaims for fraudulent misrepresentations in CSX’s complaint and in its discovery responses.
The defendants argued that the Federal Employers Liability Act complaints contained “valid medical monitoring allegations,” including that the claimants had worked at facilities or locations where asbestos was present or asbestos-containing products were used, according to court papers.
CSX argued that the lawyers’ firm retained clients by procuring medical diagnoses through “deliberately unreliable mass screenings,” and coached clients on issues like exposure to asbestos and smoking history.
The defendants countered that the firm’s “FELA asbestos practice, including its screening program, was not unusual, and CSX was well aware of this fact. As CSX employees and agents have admitted throughout discovery, in the 1990s and 2000s, many plaintiffs law firms (like the Moody firm in Virginia, Ness Motley from South Carolina, the Humphreys firm in West Virginia, the Collins firm in Buffalo, John Roven Esq. in Florida and Georgia, etc.) were conducting litigation screenings. … Many of these other firms, like the Peirce firm, were filing ‘mass actions in which a number of plaintiffs were combined,’” according to court papers.
CSX argued that Harron was reading hundreds of X-rays every day, according to court papers.
The Peirce firm was the designated legal counsel for the United Transportation Union, but the defendants argued that there was no evidence that the “11 claimants at issue retained the Peirce firm or chose to attend a Peirce firm because of a presentation or appearance made by a Peirce firm lawyer at a union meeting,” according to court papers.
At least some of the cases were filed in the West Virginia Mass Litigation Panel, which had a mediation order governing railroad cases.
Another attorney from Peirce and Raimond’s firm, Mark T. Coulter, was voluntarily dismissed.
“We thank the jury for their thoughtful and committed verdict that refuses to endorse cheating in litigation,” said one of CSX’s counsel, Marc E. Williams of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Huntington, W.Va., in a December statement. “Their verdict makes a strong statement that our system of justice must be fair, clean and honest.”
“We presented testimony of two radiologists, who read the X-­rays of these 11 plaintiffs, who testified they were positive and consistent with asbestosis,” Peirce said in a statement emailed to The Legal. “We presented the testimony of witnesses, including a prominent West Virginia trial lawyer who testified we not only had a reasonable basis to file the lawsuits but we were obligated to do so. For reasons that we cannot understand the jury ignored this testimony.”
Jones said in December that the evidence did not support the verdict and his argument was that Harron was handling asbestos cases in keeping with National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health standards and International Labour Organization standards.
“I didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to support a RICO verdict,” Jones said.
Lead trial counsel for CSX was Ronald G. Franklin, a partner with McGuireWoods’ Houston office.
Williams, as well as Samuel L. Tarry Jr. and Mitchell K. Morris of McGuireWoods’ Richmond, Va., office, and Lindsey L. Hargrove of McGuireWoods’ Houston office, also prosecuted the case.
Walter P. DeForest and David J. Berardinelli of DeForest Koscelnik Yokitis Skinner & Berardinelli in Pittsburgh represented Peirce, Raimond and Coulter.