About a decade ago, a radiologist in this small town gradually stopped seeing patients and instead adopted what turned out to be a much more lucrative practice: reading X-rays full time.It is about time the plaintiff's bar came under the scrutiny they generally try to place others under.
The doctor, Ray A. Harron, now 73 years old, reviewed as many as 150 X-rays a day, or one every few minutes, and produced medical reports for $125 each. Some of his reports supported claims by more than 75,000 people seeking compensation for lung injury caused by inhalation of asbestos. For his work, he probably earned millions of dollars over the years.
Plaintiffs' lawyers who have used Dr. Harron's services recently did not return phone calls seeking comment. But in the eyes of defense lawyers fighting some of those claims, Dr. Harron was not a professional rendering an independent opinion, but a vital cog in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit machine. They contend that Dr. Harron's X-ray evaluations are unreliable at best, fraudulent at worst.
The defense lawyers are not the only ones who have questioned Dr. Harron's work. This summer, a federal judge found that Dr. Harron "failed to write, read, or personally sign" reports supporting 6,350 claims by people saying they had inhaled silica, another potentially dangerous material.
Congressional investigators are now looking into asbestos and silica litigation. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are also looking into asbestos claims, and while it is not clear whether they are looking at Dr. Harron's work, they have sought documents from a medical screening company that used his services and from others involved in asbestos and related litigation.
Litigation involving asbestos, and more recently, silica, has grown into a huge business. Over the last 30 years, more than 700,000 claims have been filed involving inhalation of asbestos, a fire-retardant material that can cause a particularly pernicious form of lung cancer, and more than $70 billion has been spent on asbestos litigation - $49 billion as compensation, according to the Rand Corporation.