Have you noticed how scandals that don’t involve Republicans fail to get significant attention from the media? The trial lawyers, who comprise a major special interest group backing the Democratic Party, have a scandal on their hands but the mainstream media have shown little interest in this story.
In a controversy we have written about in recent months here and here, Judge Janis Jack ruled back in June that some 10,000 cases before her involving claims of silicosis, an occupational lung disease, should be thrown out. She declared that the case was “manufactured for money.”
The New York Times finally wrote about this landmark case in October. An in-depth story, entitled “The Tort Wars, at a Turning Point,” spared no one in revealing the extent of the corruption apparently involved in this sordid tale. And the paper suggested a reason why this may not have come to light sooner. It said that defense and bankruptcy lawyers have made a lot of money in the current system, “paying off plaintiffs through years of Chapter 11 proceedings.”
Just days after the House of Representatives passed significant tort reform legislation in late October, a House subcommittee agreed to subpoena four doctors who provided thousands of questionable diagnoses in the still mushrooming story of a scheme to extort millions of dollars from companies through fake claims of illness.
The legislation passed by the House in late October would penalize attorneys and law firms who file frivolous lawsuits. It would sets limits on plaintiff attorneys shopping for the most plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions. Suits would have to be filed in the jurisdiction in which the plaintiff resides.
The House Energy and Commerce oversight investigations subcommittee will be looking into the case, which could have far reaching repercussions. It has already affected claims paid out by the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust, set up to compensate victims of asbestos exposure. The Trust is no longer making payments.
It is still the Wall Street Journal editorial page that is continuing to break new ground. The paper said, “It has taken more than 70 bankrupt companies and a clogged legal system for prosecutors to see that the asbestos and silicosis lawsuit machines are a racket, but better late than never.” They report that a grand jury has been convened in the Southern District of New York to consider charges of conspiracy and fraud. The evidence shows, according to the Journal, that there is a “coterie of doctors, lawyers and screening companies behind the silicosis suits [who] were also behind the bigger asbestos mess.”
Judge Jack deserves great recognition for starting something that could end up exposing what the Journal says may turn out to be “one of the biggest legal scams in U.S. history.” Let’s hope the media drop their obsession with Tom DeLay long enough to focus some attention on it.