A jury in West Virginia just awarded nearly $500,000 in favor of a transportation company for claims arising from an alleged conspiracy between two plaintiffs attorneys and a radiologist who fabricated asbestos claims. The issue: may an attorney be held liable for unfounded claims? The lesson: completely research the applicable law and facts before accepting an engagement to provide legal services.
CSX is a Pittsburgh rail-based transportation company that had been targeted for at least 10 asbestos claims by the same group of attorneys. Upon defeating each of those claims, CSX turned the table on the plaintiffs’ attorneys and claims that the attorneys violated RICO and related state law claims for fabricating the asbestos claims. After overcoming summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds, the matter proceeded to trial. At trial, CSX introduced multiple experts who testified that each of the plaintiffs in the underlying asbestos lawsuits showed no signs of lung disease relating to asbestos exposure. After deliberating for 2 ½ hours, the jury found in CSX’s favor and awarded it $429,240.47 in damages; the amount CSX incurred in defending the underlying claims. This damages figure could be tripled under RICO.
This award highlights the important reminder that attorneys may not hide behind their clients. Attorneys are responsible for the pleadings they file, the documents they sign, and sometimes for the clients they represent. Now, entities may be more aggressive in pursuing claims against counsel given CSX’s success in the West Virginia lawsuit. Moreover, counsel must be ever vigilant to ensure a factual and legal basis exists for each of the individual claims they are pursuing or defending. This is a valuable lesson for all professionals.