A Chicago cancer doctor whose research organization has received funding from the Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation has appeared in at least seven Madison County asbestos lawsuits filed by the Simmons firm of Alton.
The lawsuits were filed between 2009 and 2014 on behalf of plaintiffs from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Nebraska. Plaintiffs are Vincent Felton, Ann Dewit, Joseph Smith, Wesley Gabelhaus, Lee Bates, Senne Renate and Thomas Kersting.
In each of their cases, Dr. Hedy Kindler appeared as a plaintiff witness under the heading of treating physician/independent medical witness.
Since 2010, Kindler's Mesothelioma Program at the University of Chicago has received $775,000 from the Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation, an organization established by the Simmons firm in 2010 to fund research projects.
A media relations representative from the University of Chicago Medical Center said its patients are not being referred to law firms.
"Our commitment to patient privacy is firm," stated Lorna Wong of the University of Chicago Medical Center press office. "Federal and state laws prohibit us from disclosing patient information, including whether or not these individuals are our patients.
"That said, the University of Chicago Medical Center and Dr. Kindler do not refer patients to any law firm, including the Simmons firm."
Kindler, who has participated as a speaker at asbestos litigation conferences sponsored by plaintiff lawyers, is named as a mesothelioma expert physician on several asbestos patient resource websites, including asbestos.com, mesothelioma.com, mesotheliomaguide.com and mesotheliomaspecialists.org.
Kindler also has appeared in at least one other Madison County asbestos case, that of plaintiff Larry Williams of Chicago. Williams, who sued in 2009, was represented by Nathaniel Mudd, a former attorney for the Simmons firm, and T. Barton French.
The subject of referrals from asbestos doctors to asbestos lawyers was central to the recent trial of former New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, who on Nov. 30 was found guilty of abusing his position by giving state funds to Dr. Robert Taub at Columbia University while making money on referrals from him. Silver had been employed by the asbestos firm Weitz and Luxenberg of New York, and received an annual salary of $120,000 plus a third of any fees from Taub’s referrals.
Silver was convicted on all seven counts of corruption.
A connection between Simmons and Taub turned into evidence in Silver's trial.
Simmons' former chief executive Gregg Kirkland testified before New York City jurors that the firm had signed 26 of Taub’s patients as clients in four years.
He stated that mesothelioma claims settle for an average of $1 million, and that the firm’s fee is normally 40 percent.
Kirkland also testified that the Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation had given $2,519,000 to Taub’s employer, Columbia University, in four years. A contract between the parties pledged a total contribution of $3.15 million within five years, he testified.
When the Simmons Foundation was created, firm founder John Simmons was named as the initial chairman. Trustees also included Kirkland, managing partner Mike Angelides, employee Mark Motley and nurse Joy Wheeler.
The foundation has supported research at other universities. As of last Dec. 31, it had given $844,560 to the University of Pennsylvania, $750,000 to the University of California at San Francisco, $345,000 to the University of Pittsburgh and $215,000 to New York University.
Madison County case numbers: Felton 12-L-111, Dewit 13L376, Smith 14L363, Gabelhaus 09L231, Bates 09L404, Renate 14L271 and Kersting 09L735.