Washington--Attorneys at a business conference here today urgedcompanies and their insurers to counter class action suits oversilicosis or asbestosis injuries with comprehensive studies thatcan reveal patterns of claim fraud.

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According to lawyers speaking at an event hosted by the U.S.Chamber Institute for Legal Reform in Washington, the scales ofcredibility are tilting away from plaintiffs' attorneys and their"diagnosis mills" in these mass tort cases, and defendant attorneysshould press the issue.

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They said lawyers for companies under attack can help their owncause by compiling and analyzing the full medical data involved inthese cases that can show negligent or fraudulent activities.

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Plaintiffs' attorneys have been using these practices, whichInstitute President Lisa Rickard called an "insulting exploitationof our judicial system," to build mass torts for asbestos relateddiseases, and are now beginning to apply the same methods to areassuch as silica-related diseases and diseases arising from exposureto welding rod fumes.

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In recent months, however, plaintiffs have suffered somesetbacks, most notable in federal court in Corpus Christi, Texas,where U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack harshly criticized themethods used by trial lawyers to solicit claims in a mass tortinvolving silica.

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Fred Krutz, a partner in the firm of Forman Perry Watkins Krutzand Tardy, LLP, based in Jackson, Miss., and a member of thedefense team in the Texas case, called the judge's order"unprecedented and historic," with ramifications that "will be feltfor a long time, not only in silicosis, but in asbestosis and othermass tort litigation."

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Much of the reason for the judge's order, Mr. Krutz said, wasthe defense's thorough investigation of the diagnoses claimed bythe plaintiffs in the case.

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Through their examination of the documents used for diagnoses,Mr. Krutz said the defense team found that many of the diagnoseshad been made with the goal of finding a claim.

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In fact, Mr. Krutz noted, the plaintiffs' attorneys in the casehad seemingly made use of earlier cases involving asbestosexposure. Roughly 65 percent of the patients diagnosed withsilicosis in the mass tort case had also been diagnosed earlierwith asbestosis, an occurrence so unlikely that Judge Jack equatedit to a golfer hitting a hole in one, Mr. Krutz related.

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Mr. Krutz had sought to have the case moved from state court inMississippi to the federal district court, and while Judge Jackultimately ruled that the case should be returned to the statesystem, he said the criticism of the plaintiff's practices in herscathing, 249 page order would be a valuable asset going forward."The mass screenings, I predict to you, are over," he said.

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Much of what Mr. Krutz and his associates were able toaccomplish he credited to their idea to catalog all of the medicalfiles in the case into a database.

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That system was able to cross-reference different pieces of dataand help them determine such figures as the number of patientsdiagnosed by a particular doctor or the number of patientsdiagnosed in a particular time period.

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A similar project has begun to create a larger database ofdoctors, attorneys and screeners who perform the basic tests toestablish diagnoses for mass torts. Timothy O'Reilly, a consultantwith the Institute for Legal Reform, said the project would helpdefense attorneys to establish a "level playing field" in suchcases.

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Mr. O'Reilly added that the desired outcome would be a largeWeb-based database that could help attorneys nationwide determineif the mass tort action they are facing is the result of attorneyswho actively seek out claimants regardless of their health. "Theultimate goal is to have a national database," he said.

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Mr. O'Reilly said that the current legal environment, in whichseveral states have passed or are considering legislation requiringthose filing lawsuits for injuries related to asbestos or silicaexposure to meet specific medical criteria, is favorable to defenseattorneys.

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"I can't remember a time when we've had this momentum," he said,adding that it "behooves" defendants and their attorneys to act onthat momentum.

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Dave Setter, a founding shareholder of the Denver-based law firmof Socha, Perczak, Setter and Anderson, P.C., echoed Mr. O'Reilly'ssentiments, adding that defense attorneys should "take it to them"when they find that mass tort claims were the result of diagnosticmills. "We have the momentum, so don't quit now," he said."Whenever these occur, we should go forward."

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