Earlier this week, we brought you a story about a Texas judge who issued a ruling that would bar physicians from testifying in silicosis cases on the grounds that such testimony was fraudulent. Most physicians who testify in asbestos lawsuits are honest and reputable. It is also standard practice to pay expert witnesses for their time and expertise. However, this is usually because the witness is taking time away from his or her usual business–in this case, a medical practice–in order to be of assistance to one party or the other. A doctor who has virtually become a “full-time” expert witness, claims to have made 40,000 positive diagnoses for asbestos-related disease and has made $10 million in the process, however, is bound to attract some suspicion. Dr. Jay Segarra has done all of those things. According to the New York Times, he has also worked extensively with mass screening (“Million Dollar Lungs!”) companies.
Not surprisingly, a huge number of these patients tested positive for both asbestosis and silicosis. Therein lies the reason for suspicion. Those who specialize in pulmonary medicine believe it would be extremely rare for a patient to suffer from both asbestosis and silicosis, as these are two very different diseases with completely separate causes. Silicosis is caused by the inhalation of silica dust encountered in stonecutting and glass making. While the symptoms can be similar, the pathologies are completely separate. Unfortunately for Dr. Segarra, Judge Janis Jack (see 16 October’s post) was a registered nurse before embarking on a legal career. While it is possible in rare cases for a patient to have both asbestosis and silicosis, Dr. Segarra seemed to be making an unusually large number of these diagnoses. For Judge Jack, that was a “red flag.” According to Dr. Segarra himself, a competent physician will take 60 to 90 minutes to make a diagnosis of asbestosis or silicosis, which involves a complete physical, a review of the patient’s medical history, and an x-ray. However, the Claims Resolution Management Corporation, an organization which oversees asbestos claims, has records indicating that Dr. Segarra has made an average of eight positive diagnoses of asbestos disease each and every day since 1994; some days, he diagnosed between 20 and 50 patients.