Palm Beach News

Suit: Boca Law Firm Embellished Client's Condition, Sexually Harassed Her

A woman from a small town in northern Kentucky claims that the law firm of Wasserman Riley & Associates, with an office in Boca Raton, embellished her heart injuries in order to win a class-action suit against the makers of the diet drug fen-phen. Patricia Fulkerson, of Coxs Creek, Kentucky, also claimed that the attorney in the firm's Louisville office, Robert W. Riley, made sexual advances toward her. An article about the case appeared in yesterday's Louisville Courier-Journal.

The suit against the law firm was settled yesterday, with the firm not admitting any wrongdoing. The firm's partner, Jay Wasserman, is not free to discuss the terms of that settlement. But he told Juice that the claims about embellishing a client's heart condition are "absolute nonsense."

Fulkerson had responded to a Wasserman Riley advertisement that sought fen-phen users for participation in a class-action lawsuit. As part of the offer, she was entitled to a free echocardiogram test.

According to the Courier-Journal report, a former employee of Wasserman Riley testified that Fulkerson's test did not show damage to her heart. But the ex-employee, Fonda Walters, claimed that Wasserman told her to alter the test report so that it found "severe" damage. Fulkerson claimed that the firm would not provide her with that test. After she paid for her own test, she claimed that little damage was found.

Wasserman, who was not named personally as a defendant in the suit, says he had little involvement in Fulkerson's case. And while he says the test results were sent first to his firm, any client, including Fulkerson, could request his or her report. Most did not request the report.

"If they were positive [for damage], they wanted them," says Wasserman. "If not, they didn't want them. But whoever wanted their results got their results."

The Boca attorney claims that the testimony of the ex-employee, Walters, contained "numerous inconsistent statements" and was affected by her "disgruntled" attitude toward the firm, which had fired her. Walters worked in the firm's office in London.

Wasserman also says there were only about six claims filed among the many prospective clients who received the complimentary tests. "If [falsifying results] was going on, why didn't we have a much bigger number?" Wasserman asks, adding that since the reports were produced by experts and would be part of the case, it wouldn't be possible to fake them, even if he wanted to.

His partner, Riley, filed the claims in the case, and for Riley, the case was a bit more complex -- and embarassing. From the Courier-Journal:

"Every time I would deny him lunch or a drink or any of the things he considered friendly, he would say, 'Just remember you have to come through me to get your money,' " Fulkerson said in a deposition in which she claims Riley asked her to have a one-night stand and to skinny-dip in his pool.

Riley, a health-care lawyer, acknowledged in a deposition that he exchanged "sexual banter" with Fulkerson in the conversations -- two of which she tape-recorded.

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Thomas Francis