But payments to hundreds have been tossed out since last fall, when a federal judge, bothered by sample audits that found a high percentage of unjustified claims, ordered a total review.
“A huge number were problematic,” said Richard L. Scheff, an attorney for the Philadelphia-based trust handling the distribution of the settlement. “There is an enormous task to be done to separate the wheat from the chaff.”
U.S. District Judge Harvey J. Bartle III, who is overseeing the settlement, barred two New York law firms from collecting shares of the settlement after ruling that they had submitted unjustified claims.
The trust sued a Kansas City doctor who had been assisting with the filing of claims, saying she diagnosed thousands of people as being ill without properly evaluating their health.
Trust officials also set up a toll-free hotline for people to report fraud, threatened to turn over evidence of wrongdoing to prosecutors and asked lawyers to have doctors reevaluate thousands of cases to confirm their diagnoses.
The trust has also continued to make payments — more than $1 billion has been distributed so far. But some lawyers with clients who applied for a share of the settlement have been surprised by the ferocity of the crackdown.
Booneville, Miss., attorney Joseph Langston, who represents about 2,000 clients in the settlement, said he plans to have all of his claims re-examined to avoid running into problems with the auditors.
“We’re instructing our cardiologists to read these echocardiograms again, and only certify cases where there is no question that the person suffered some damage,” Langston said. “We are going to do this more strictly, more narrowly.”