Chamber asks for asbestos fraud investigation

Ann Knef Apr. 15, 2005, 5:00am

United States Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue

Circuit Judge Daniel J. Stack

United States Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue has asked the Justice Department to investigate new evidence of fraud that has emerged in asbestos and silica litigation across the country.

"Considerable evidence has come to light indicating the existence of substantial and systematic fraud in asbestos litigation," Donohue wrote in a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

As of the end of March, there were 953 pending asbestos cases in Madison County Circuit Court.

Asbestos Judge Daniel Stack, who took over the massive docket last August, said he would not mind if a federal legislative proposal took asbestos cases out of the county. But when asked about specifics on cases, he has declined comment, stating it is "inappropriate" for a judge to discuss pending litigation.

Donohue said that a number of developments underscore the need for an investigation, including recent testimony in Texas federal court in related silica litigation in which several diagnosing doctors openly disclaimed their prior findings.

"I request that the Department of Justice immediately open a formal investigation into the conduct of lawyers, doctors and others who are responsible for the explosion in meritless and abusive asbestos claims across the country in recent years," he said.

A recent study of asbestos claims, by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in which an independent review of X-rays submitted as evidence in the claims revealed a discrepancy rate of greater than 90 percent, was also cited by Donohue.

Asbestos cases rarely go to trial. In the last several years--while thousands of cases have been filed in Madison County--only four have gone to trial.

One of the largest settlements in Illinois in 2004 was a Madison County asbestos case. Luke Lindau, an Arlington Heights man suffering from mesothelioma, reportedly received a $4.1 million settlement.

St. Clair County Circuit Court recently adopted an inactive asbestos docket, which ensures that suits filed by the sickest claimants are given priority.

Evidence of fraud in asbestos litigation is an issue of national importance because the litigation has already involved the payment of more than $70 billion in judgments or settlements and driven more than 70 companies into bankruptcy, Donohue added.

"We have never had such strong evidence of rampant fraud driving the asbestos litigation," Donohue said. "It's time for the Justice Department to get to the bottom of it."

The Madison County Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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