Siren Suit Ruling Sounds Research Alarm

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A lawsuit against a maker of fire-truck sirens provides a look at a common practice: academics who conduct research while acting as paid litigation consultants.

The practice can produce conflicts of interest, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) observes in a story about researcher William Clark of Washington University medical school in St. Louis.

Clark published a study in 2005 that concluded firefighters are not at risk for hearing loss. He did his research while a paid consultant for Federal Signal Corp., which is defending a suit by Chicago firefighters who say the company’s sirens damaged their hearing.

The company has paid Clark $32,500 for his services, the story says.

A Cook County judge refused to allow the study or testimony by Clark after a delay in producing records related to the research.

Judge Robert Gordon said the company “withheld hundreds of pages of documents used in this study and may have been an integral part of its creation.” He ordered the defense to pay $50,000 in attorney fees.

Federal Signal, which faces cases in 17 other states, says lawyers are encouraging baseless claims against it.

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