JACKSON, Miss. – Just as X-rays allow patients to see through skin, X-ray lawsuits allow Americans to see through asbestos litigation that swallowed profits of American corporations and carried away their assets through bankruptcy courts.
Now that judges have started holding radiologists accountable for phony asbestos suits, lawyers who grew richer than the radiologists face accountability too.
National Services Industries, which sued two radiologists in state court at Lexington on Feb. 9, sued three more at U.S. district court in Jackson three days later.
In the state complaint Marcy Croft of Jackson reserved 20 John Doe docket spaces for law firm defendants, and in her federal suit she listed that many targets and more.
From a constellation of asbestos lawyers she chose Michael Fitzgerald of Virginia as first target, naming him as a defendant in the federal suit.
The state suit alleges that N & M Inc. ran a racket that manufactured asbestos claims, and the federal suit alleges a racket at Respiratory Testing Services.
The federal suit claims NSI lost $80 million to the Respiratory Testing Services racket.
The state suit connects N & M to radiologists Ray Harron and son Andrew Harron.
The federal suit connects Respiratory Testing Services to radiologists Ray Segarra, James Ballard and Phillip Lucas.
Walls of justice keep closing in on the X-ray pushers from all sides.
Pressure on Segarra increased on Feb. 24, when a federal judge responsible for about 90,000 asbestos suits stripped him of physician patient privilege.
District Judge Eduardo Robreno of Philadelphia ordered Segarra and radiologists Laxminaraya Rao and Richard Bernstein to answer defense subpoenas.
"Doctor Segarra was not consulted by the plaintiffs in order to provide treatment," Robreno wrote.
"Rather, he was consulted by plaintiffs to provide a diagnosis, which would be relied upon by the individual plaintiffs to support a personal injury claim," he wrote.
"Therefore, under the circumstances, no physician patient privilege attached to the information obtained from plaintiffs by Doctor Segarra during the screening examinations," he wrote.
Even if it applied, he wrote, they waived it by suing.
"Plaintiffs have essentially released to the world their own medical information and waived any privilege to the privacy of that information," he wrote.
Robreno refused to define Segarra and Rao as health care providers for purposes of federal law that protects privacy of patient records.
He also refused to define them as non testifying experts, safe from subpoenas.
"Plaintiffs, having produced and relied upon the opinions of Doctors Segarra and Rao in this litigation, cannot now claim that Doctors Segarra and Rao are non-testifying experts entitled to the consulting expert privilege," he wrote.
Ray Harron faces two suits at once for his role in suits against CSX railroad.
In February at Wheeling, W.V., U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp denied a motion to dismiss Harron from a lawsuit CSX filed in 2005.
The suit seeks damages from the Pittsburgh law firm of Peirce, Raimond and Coulter, and from Harron.
On March 3 CSX moved to compel Harron to produce records of his X-ray income.
"Such compensation would be admissible at trial to demonstrate Harron's motive to continue receiving income from the lawyer defendants and other law firms," wrote CSX counsel David Bolen, of Huddleston Bolen in Huntington, W.V.
Bolen wrote that jurors can consider wealth when setting punitive damages.
He seeks W-2 income slips of Harron's firm, writing that employees could testify about his misconduct.
He seeks invoices Harron sent to Peirce. "This information is relevant to CSX's claim that Harron was compensated on a per X-ray basis," he wrote.
Magistrate James Seibert set a March 18 hearing on the motion.
Harron faces a parallel suit in federal court at Pittsburgh, where Lumbermens Mutual denies responsibility for any judgment against Peirce and Harron in Wheeling.
Lumbermens Mutual argues that its policy didn't cover racketeering.
Harron moved in January to dismiss the claim against him.
Lumbermens lawyer Louis Long of Pittsburgh answered in February that depending on the outcome at Wheeling, Harron could assert a claim against Lumbermens Mutual.
The commotion over asbestos caught the attention of Forbes magazine, which covered the Mississippi suits on Feb. 25.
Brent Coon of Beaumont, Texas, said he would vouch for Segarra.
"I have had him look at a lot of cases and the majority of them come back negative," the magazine quoted Coon saying.
NSI sued a single asbestos lawyer in federal court at Jackson but implicated these others:
Reaud, Norgan and Quinn
Porter and Malouf
Environmental Litigation Group
Sweet and Freese
Maples and Lomax
Larry O. Norris
Watson and Heidelberg
Morris, Sakalarios and Blackwell
Jeffrey A. Varas
Barton and Williams
Brent Coon and Associates
Campbell, Cherry, Harrison, Davis and Dove
Jackson Taylor Martino and Hedge
Ratiner, Reyes and O'Shea
Robles and Gonzalez
Stacie Foster Taylor
William Roberts Wilson
Baron and Budd
Wallace and Graham
Franklin, Cardwell and Jones
Heard, Robins, Cloud and Lubel
Lanier, Parker and Sullivan
McCurdy and McCurdy
Edward O. Moody
McPherson, Monk, Hughes, Bradley and Wimberley
Breugger and McCullough
Heygood, Orr and Reyes
Zamler, Mellen and Shiffman