Opinion

Changing state’s label as ‘hellhole’

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Rightly or wrongly, West Virginia has the reputation among some of being a “judicial hellhole,” with the odds in many Mountain State courts stacked against businesses. A case being considered in the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could do something to change that image.

For nearly a decade, the CSX railroad company was the target of lawsuits filed on behalf of thousands of the firm’s workers. Three lawyers in Pittsburgh filed the actions, claiming many CSX employees suffered lung damage from breathing asbestos while on the job.

At least some of those lawsuits – and tens of thousands of others – were based in part on West Virginia radiologist Ray Harron. But according to published reports, a federal judge in Texas discovered in 2005 that many of Dr. Harron’s diagnoses were fraudulent. “These diagnoses were driven by neither health nor justice – they were manufactured for money,” wrote Judge Janis Jack, adding, “In the majority of cases, these diagnoses were more the creation of lawyers than doctors.”

That prompted CSX to file a lawsuit against the three Pittsburgh attorneys, insisting nine of the cases they handled were fraudulent. The lawyers were accused of racketeering.

Last year, a federal judge here in Wheeling agreed with CSX’s contention, awarding the company $1.3 million. It is his decision the appeals court is considering.

It is impossible to say how that court will rule. Often in such cases, obscure questions of law or fact are the basis for upholding or overturning a lower court ruling.

But if the court sides with CSX, it will be taking a powerful stance against abuse of the courts in West Virginia. One way or another, the ruling will have an effect on our state’s “judicial hellhole” reputation.

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