Mass Tort Litigation Screenings Exposed

Professor Lester Brickman, of Cardozo School of Law, has published a fascinating article entitled, "The Use of Litigation Screenings in Mass Torts: A Formula for Fraud?"

At MassTortDefense, we would simply remove the question mark.

Plaintiff lawyers obtain the "mass" for some mass tort litigation by conducting screenings to sign-up potential litigants. These "litigation screenings" have no intended medical benefit, and thus this entrepreneurial response to highly profitable opportunities that arise in certain mass tort litigation should not be confused with true medical screening. In a litigation screening, potential litigants are solicited by lawyers or their agents by use of mass mailings, television and newspaper advertisements providing “800” telephone numbers, and by use of web sites purporting to provide medical information about toxic exposures, drugs, devices, or specific diseases but which are, in fact, “fronts” for law firms to whom the web site visitor is referred.

Screenings can be held in motels, shopping center parking lots, local union offices, and even lawyers' offices. There, an occupational history is taken by persons typically with no medical training, a doctor may do a cursory physical exam, and non-doctor technicians administer tests, such as X-rays, pulmonary function tests, echocardiograms and blood tests. The sole purpose of screenings is to generate "medical" evidence of the existence of an injury to be attributed to exposure to or ingestion of defendants' products – all pre-planned. Usually a handful of doctors ("litigation doctors") provide the vast majority of the thousands of medical reports prepared for that litigation.

By the good professor’s count, at least 1,500,000 potential litigants have been screened in the asbestos, silica, fen-phen (diet drugs), silicone breast implant, and welding fume litigation. Litigation doctors found that approximately 1,000,000 of those screened had the requisite condition that could qualify for compensation under plaintiffs’ legal theory, such as asbestosis, silicosis, moderate mitral or mild aortic value regurgitation or a neurological disorder. He further estimates that litigation doctors and screening companies have been paid well in excess of $250 million – huge number, but a tiny fraction of the contingency fees earned well in excess of $13 billion by his estimates.

The professor concludes that approximately 90% claims generated from the screenings were based on "diagnoses" of the type that U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack, in the silica MDL, found were "manufactured for money."

He also presents the case that bankruptcy courts adjudicating asbestos related bankruptcies have effectively legitimized the use of these litigation screenings.

Professor Brickman's areas of expertise include legal ethics, contingency fees, mass torts, and asbestos litigation. He notes the significant volume of literature about the use of junk science in the court, even today, especially to try to prove general causation in mass torts. But his analysis is particularly valuable because it turns an empirical light on the use of litigation screenings to try to prove specific causation.
 

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