O's doctor becomes defense target in Angelos asbestos case

The Orioles' team doctor, William H. Goldiner, tended to orange-clad ballplayers at the same time as he diagnosed thousands of blue-collar workers with asbestos-related illnesses whose cases were taken up by prominent lawyer and team owner Peter G. Angelos.

Angelos' firm is seeking to revive thousands of dormant asbestos cases, but some of the underlying diagnoses are facing new scrutiny from defense lawyers. They say Goldiner's dual roles call the integrity of his work into question — a contention he says is "insulting and absolutely false."

Attorneys for Union Carbide, a chemical company that could be a defendant in new asbestos litigation, wrote this week in a court filing that they oppose the Angelos firm's contention that the cases have enough in common to be tried together. The filing argues that medical evidence produced by doctors who diagnosed large numbers of patients has proved unreliable in similar cases.

Union Carbide points out that Goldiner worked with Angelos in two capacities.

"The only conclusion one can draw is that Dr. Goldiner prepared many of the medical reports at issue … at the exact same time that he was employed by (and presumably paid by) the very lawyer whose law firm eventually filed those plaintiffs' claims," attorneys for the company wrote.

Goldiner, who said he is a paid consultant to the team, not an employee, said he would never diagnose someone with a serious illness just to do a favor.

"It's damnation by association," he said. "That's what it amounts to."

Theodore M. Flerlage Jr., one of the Angelos attorneys involved in the cases, said Union Carbide is trying to divert attention from its dangerous product.

Union Carbide made the filing as a Baltimore judge considers a proposal by the Angelos firm to lump together more than 11,000 old asbestos suits. It's a strategy that helped Angelos make his fortune in the early 1990s — part of which he spent to buy the Orioles.

The chemical company argues that it won't get a fair trial if so many cases are tried together, and said it is concerned about some of the medical evidence.

The company's lawyers, who declined to comment, said in their legal filing that five doctors diagnosed more than two-thirds of the plaintiffs. In 1995 alone, Goldiner filed reports on 1,157 people with asbestos-related illnesses, according to the filing, and 77 on a single day — April 1, 1996, the eve of Opening Day that year.

In a related filing, Union Carbide's lawyers questioned whether the rate at which Goldiner identified the diseases indicates that he was involved in mass screenings that have been shown in other cases to have led to faulty diagnoses.

Dr. William Beckett, at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said Wednesday that diagnosing some asbestos-related diseases is a lengthy process involving a medical history, physical exam, X-rays and other tests.

"The history and physical exam take 20-30 minutes at the very least," Beckett said.

Goldiner, who also practices internal medicine in Towson, said that his diagnoses were proper and that his small office regularly sees more than a dozen patients a day. He said that while he may have filed numerous reports on a single day, that does not mean he examined that many patients at once.

He's maintained his practice alongside his work for the Orioles since 1993, and now holds the title of team physician and medical director.

The doctor said his asbestos exposure practice predates his work for the Orioles. He began treating union and building trades workers in the mid-1980s and said he has no financial arrangement with the Angelos law firm.

Thousands of people in Baltimore's heavy industries were exposed to asbestos throughout the 20th century. The mineral, used as an insulator and construction material, has been shown to cause cancer and other respiratory illnesses.

Goldiner began screening workers under an arrangement with labor unions. He said he was paid for his services as a doctor, sometimes with the money patients won in court. But he said his fee was not dependent on the success of a lawsuit.

"I looked at it as an opportunity," he said. "There was a need. I was trying to fulfill a need."

Flerlage, the Angelos attorney, said Union Carbide's attorneys are using a common tactic to distract people from the company's record of making a product that made people seriously ill.

"If you can cast aspersions on a procedure as opposed to the major issue at stake, perhaps you can win the jury over with that," he said. "It's not new, it's been tried before."

Goldiner added that his medical records are available for defense experts to review and have stood up to scrutiny.

"How in the world could I be falsifying any of this?" he asked. "In many respects, this is more of an open book than any medical practice is."

Flerlage said Goldiner's work with the Orioles boosts his credibility, rather than undermining it, because it shows that Angelos trusts him.

"Why would you go to a doctor who is not a qualified certified physician to diagnose the people who you are investing money in?" Flerlage said. "That's an absurd proposition."

iduncan@baltsun.com

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