West Virginia watchdog group 'honors' radiologist for diagnoses

Chris Dickerson Mar. 1, 2006, 9:43am

Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, speaks during a press conference Wednesday where the group "honored" Bridgeport radiologist Ray Harron.

CHARLESTON, WV – There was no red carpet and no fancy dresses.

Heck, there were no celebrities present unless you count a local TV reporter, Scott Saxton of WSAZ.

The Academy Awards presentation happens Sunday, but West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse handed out what it called a "Hollywood-style" award Wednesday to a Bridgeport, West Va. radiologist for his role in what the group says were false diagnoses of thousands of asbestos and silica victims.

Steve Cohen, executive director of the nonprofit citizen watchdog group, says Dr. Ray Harron is deserving of a "Best Film Editing" award for his role as a personal injury lawsuit doctor.

The mock Oscar that Cohen had made for Harron read "Dr. Ray Harron, Science Fiction, WV CALA."

Cohen said attorneys paid Harron about $10 million for his x-ray screenings and that many of those Harron screened never saw a doctor.

He also pointed out that a Congressional panel is investigating Harron, and a federal prosecutor in New York has served subpoenas on firms that did business with Harron.

The bankrupt Johns-Manville Corp., a regular Madison County asbestos defendant, says Harron is responsible for 10 percent of the claims it has paid.

"Editors certainly help a film tell its story by keeping the good parts and tossing out the bad, but here in West Virginia we have an 'editor' who left a lot of the story on the cutting room floor," Cohen said, extending his movie analogy. "'X-Ray Harron was hired to read x-rays to help build silica lawsuits. His diagnoses are now notorious."

Last year, federal court judge Janis Graham Jack made national headlines when she uncovered duplicate and fraudulent silica diagnoses in her Texas courtroom. Many of those diagnoses were made by Harron.

In Jack's opinion dismissing the claims, she said "These diagnoses were driven by neither health nor justice – they were manufactured for money."

Following Harron's admission that he did not even make the diagnoses of the patients whose x-rays he read, Jack noted that most of "these diagnoses are more the creation of lawyers than doctors.

"Both the scientific community and the federal judge must have been stunned when Dr. Harron improbably diagnosed the same people as being sick from both conditions."

It isn't clear whether Harron is responsible for any of the diagnoses in Madison County's massive asbestos docket. But an Alabama mobile X-ray screening service, which provided diagnoses for for lawsuits filed in Madison County last year, has been rebuked for producing a high rate of false-positive diagnoses.

In September 2005, Texas plaintiff's firm Brent Coon & Associates piled 172 silicosis and asbestos lawsuits in Madison County.

The Record interviewed eight of the plaintiffs who stated they participated in a screening in a mobile X-ray van at a union hall near Chicago in 2003.

They identified Respiratory Testing Services (RTS) of Mobile, Ala. as the screener, which had been singled out in a report by the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies in September as producing dubious diagnoses.

Cohen said West Virginia juries need reliable information.

"We can't tolerate junk science in the courtroom," he said at Wednesday's "presentation" in front of Park Place Stadium Cinemas in downtown Charleston, adding that employers searching for places to do business look for level playing fields.

"Junk lawsuits and bad actors like Ray Harron who are willing to trade he truth for money are only hurting those who are truly sick and deserving of compensation. Juries must have accurate information from reliable experts if justice is to be served.

"As a West Virginian, I'm disgusted by the bad reputation Ray Harron has made for our state. This story is running in Texas, Florida and Mississippi where the cases were being heard, and many national publications have reported on West Virginia's lawsuit mill."

Later Wednesday, Cohen was going to Bridgeport to make a similar presentation in front of Harron's offices. But Harron isn't expected to be there to accept his statuette.

"He has disappeared," Cohen said. "He has an office in Bridgeport, but no one knows where he is."

Cohen said there are rumors that Harron has left the country.

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