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The Hunt for A Cure: W&C responds to WSJ article

05-07-2013

The Wall Street Journal, which is in the business of putting asbestos trial lawyers out business, contacted me over a year ago. They wanted to run an article about my donations to medical research.

As a journalist myself in college, it didn’t take long for me to figure out their angle. They wanted to show that somehow my practice of sponsoring medical research, as opposed to spending oodles on TV and Google ads, was “fishy” if not “rotten.”

The result of that year long quest appeared today in the crusty WSJ under the byline of reporter Dionne Searcey. The title: “ Mesothelioma Doctors, Lawyers Hunt for Valuable Asbestos Cases.”

Right away you get a feel for the slant. We are “hunters.” Now, I’ve gotten to know Ms. Searcey fairly well and my guess is she didn’t write the headline. Contrary to the splenetic anti-lawyer bias of the WSJ’s editorial board, Ms. Searcey actually went the extra mile to check her facts, question her own biases, and listen to contrary points of view. To her credit, she even previewed with me the accuracy of the quotes she attributed to me and others. In sum, she has shown a degree of professionalism I did not expect from her employer, and I respect her methods greatly.

But I wanted to clarify just a few points.

First, we wouldn't be in this mess if the asbestos industry hadn’t created it. Nor would we be fussing about the ethics of sponsoring medical research if the asbestos industry itself had not steadfastly and stupidly refused to clean up their horrific mess.

Second, if the parties responsible for the asbestos cancer mess won’t clean it up, who will? The Federal government has not invested in medical research commensurate with the size of the problem, their responsibility (for Navy vets, meso is a “service connected disability) or their own fault. Meanwhile, the number of people diagnosed with meso is “too small” for Big Pharma to justify any serious investment. The labor unions are broke. If not the patients and their advocates, who will step up?

Third, if money curries favor, from a strict profits and losses perspective, why hasn’t the asbestos industry donated to research? A few years ago, Dr. Cameron was invited to speak to 600 asbestos defense lawyers, insurance adjusters and company reps. He talked about the medical and ethical benefits of sponsoring research. How much did they pony up? Zero. Now, that’s “disgraceful.”

The asbestos industry is notorious for corrupting the medical and scientific literature with false and deceptive articles they paid for designed to prove to juries that asbestos is as benign as mother’s milk. If anyone knows how to curry favor with money, it’s the asbestos industry.

It simply boggles my mind that the industry, after 50 years of wasting tens of billions of dollars on phony research and medical mercenary “experts,” still has yet to see the economic benefits from finding a cure. Put lawyers like me out of business! Save asbestos-tainted companies from bankruptcy! Spare millions of people agony, misery and death! It makes dollars and sense.

Fourth, the only “stakeholders” that really don’t want to see a cure for mesothelioma are the legions of “bill to kill” defense lawyers. They get paid by the hour. It’s in their economic interest to drag out tedious, life-sucking litigation, as the John Johnson case sadly but clearly demonstrates.

That said, over the past 25 years, I have met several honorable defense lawyers who agree with me that their clients should indeed invest in a cure. They agree with me that they should find a way to resolve meritorious cases early before racking up thousands and thousands in legal fees. And they agree that it makes no sense at this late date for asbestos defendants to invest in crackpot “experts” to gin up junk science to bamboozle juries, when the money should instead be invested in cleaning up their horrific mess.

We are quick to forgive in this country. People, like corporations, make mistakes. What’s unforgivable is the perpetuation of that mistake by stubbornly refusing to own up to it.

Finally, maybe I’m wrong about the “benefits” of keeping meso patients alive. Unfortunately, as long as certain states limit or eliminate the damages available in wrongful death cases, then the bad guys will indeed have an economic incentive to hasten their victim’s demise. It’s no secret that here in California the asbestos companies generally settle wrongful death claims for far, far less than they do for living claims. The law encourages this wicked behavior. In this dark and dusty light, it’s no wonder the bad guys don’t invest in a cure.

My firm’s motto has always been: “Asbestos Lawyers for Life.” Yes, it’s in my firm’s interest to help my clients live long and prosper. The day that in this great country we hold in contempt efforts to cure cancer but applaud and reward the cancer creators, well, that’s a day I’d rather put off, and I don’t think I’m alone.

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