Smelly combination--lawyers and silicosis

Houston Chronicle:

A Houston plaintiff attorney and two insurance company employees were indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday in connection with an alleged kickback scheme that involved millions of dollars in settlement proceeds from silicosis cases.

Warren Todd Hoeffner, 42, and two claims managers for The Hartford, a Connecticut insurance giant, were charged with 14 counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud and money laundering. The U.S. Attorney's Office also is seeking forfeiture of more than $8 million in fees and bribes allegedly collected by the trio.

Texas lawyers involved with silicosis litigation say Hoeffner once had an inventory of cases approaching 1,000 several years ago and decided to settle them all in bulk. Among the insurance companies he asked to meet with him in New Hampshire in February 2002 was The Hartford, which represented eight defendants named in his lawsuits, according to the indictment.

Hartford claims managers Rachel Rossow, 41, and John Prestage, 36, ultimately agreed to pay Hoeffner more than $34 million to settle all his cases. As part of the deal, however, Rossow and Prestage received a total of more than $3 million and each a new BMW automobile, the indictment alleges. Hoeffner collected more than $5.3 million in legal fees.

...

Hoeffner's silicosis cases, mostly in Texas, predated the mass filing of silicosis lawsuits in 2002 and 2003 in Mississippi that led to the discrediting of the lawyers who brought them. A federal judge in Corpus Christi, reviewing the 10,000-plus cases that landed temporarily in her court, found the entire enterprise laced with fraud and deceit.

Her 2005 ruling helped stall the progress of what plaintiff lawyers had hoped would be the successor to asbestos litigation, which was beginning to play out. Because of the corruption she exposed, along with tort-reform measures enacted by Texas and other states, the plaintiffs' strategy of filing so many lawsuits that defendants had no option but to settle no longer proved viable.

Hoeffner's settlements, however, took place in Texas before silicosis became a dirty word.

...

These cases really put in question many of the junk medicine cases pushed by the trial bar from John Edwards on. The silicone implant cases are now largely discredited, even though they bankrupted the company that was providing the implants. Many of the lawyers in the big silicosis class action suits had similar class actions in asbestos litigation. The lawsuits against the tobacco companies also enriched Democrat contributors. Creating sympathetic victim classes has been a path to riches for many lawyers. some were more convincing than they should have been.

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