A transportation company that has been the target of asbestos-related lawsuits involving thousands of claimants has reportedly charged a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based plaintiffs’ law firm with violations of federal racketeering law, wire fraud and mail fraud in the firm’s pursuit of asbestos claimants and settlements. The company has apparently alleged that Robert Peirce and Associates, which gathered thousands of current and former employees and filed numerous lawsuits against the company, relied on “intentionally unreliable mass screenings” involving a radiologist with a criminal history and a doctor who has allegedly tailored diagnoses to fit lawsuits.
According to the company, in at least 11 cases, Peirce-paid professionals initially found no signs of asbestos in an employee but later screened the employee and found the disease. The law firm has evidently filed a counterclaim, accusing the company of withholding a document that would have resulted in the early dismissal of one of these 11 cases, thus saving time and money.
Legal commentators have reportedly been unable to recall whether any other mass-tort defendant has retaliated by filing claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Some, including Shook, Hardy & Bacon Public Policy Partner Mark Behrens, call it a healthy development for the judicial system; he reportedly said that the company is “sending a powerful message to the plaintiff’s lawyers: That if you want to sue us, you’d better be very careful and send legitimate claims, or we’re going to make it costly for you.” Others, noting that RICO claims are hard to prove, suggest that the unusual allegations may not go far in court. See Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 31, 2011.