CSX is taking a prominent West Virginia law firm to court.
Editor’s note: The following article came to us from Litigation & Trial blog, www.litigationandtrial.com/ as Rich Lord reported at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PITTSBURGH – The quarry has turned on the hunter in a West Virginia courtroom, and now one of the nation’s biggest transportation companies is locked in a bitter fight with one of Pittsburgh’s most prominent trial law firms.
After years of feeling like they were being railroaded by asbestosis lawsuits, lawyers for CSX Transportation in 2005 sued Robert Peirce & Associates, accusing it of fraud and negligence in the massive cases it brought. The Jacksonville-based corporation lost a 2009 trial, but in court filings in recent weeks it detailed a new theory — that the Peirce firm is a racketeering-influenced corrupt organization that has committed wire fraud and mail fraud in its pursuit of claimants and settlements.
Prominent advocates for both the plaintiffs’ bar and defense bar said they could not think of another case in which a corporation that endured mass litigation retaliated by turning the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) statute against its tormentor. They disagreed on the significance of the development.
“The requirements [to prove RICO] are significant and pretty hard to meet under most circumstances,” said Christopher Placitella, a prominent litigator and writer on asbestosis law with the Philadelphia-based plaintiffs’ firm Cohen Placitella & Roth.
“You really have to have a unique set of facts” including a conspiracy, multiple criminal acts and a resulting loss of property.
As a result, other plaintiffs’ firms aren’t likely to be chilled by one RICO case, he said.
This isn’t entirely breaking news; six months ago the Fourth Circuit reinstated the case over statute of limitations defenses, reported about here by the anti-consumer folks at Forbes. The full complaint is new, though.
Suing trial lawyers for bringing successful mass torts cases is something of a fad these days. On the verge of losing litigation they asked be transferred to Ecuador, Chevron has sued the lawyers for the Lago Agrio Ecuadorian plaintiffs alleging RICO violations in the form of judicial tampering. Last year, Illinois Central Railroad won a verdict against two plaintiffs’ attorneys in Mississippi, alleging fraud in the pursuit of two asbestos cases by way of the plaintiffs’ lawyers failure to notify the railroad that the plaintiffs had participated in a prior asbestos-related case.
Placitella said, “I don’t fault the reporter for knowing about it, but I do indeed know of another, just like the new CSX lawsuit against Robert Peirce, in which:
•a large corporation did something bad that harmed a lot of people,
•a particular plaintiffs’ law firm developed a specialty in those claims,
•the plaintiffs’ firm got so good at their niche that they were consistently making a lot of money, and, armed with just the right discovery, legal theories, and experts, were able to negotiate premium settlement, then, after a few cases didn’t win, the large corporation turned around and sued the trial lawyers under RICO allegations, alleging the whole thing was a scheme to defraud the corporation, etc.”
The complete article can be found at www.litigationandtrial.com/