PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ One of this city's leading personal injury lawyers is trying to salvage 11 cases that were dismissed because of what he calls an employee's mental illness.

James E. Beasley, whose office has won million-dollar verdicts against doctors, hospitals and manufacturers, contends in court papers that Thomas W. Smith suffered a mental breakdown early last year and abandoned their clients, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today.

Among the lawsuits: one by a woman who says a hospital delayed four years in diagnosing her breast cancer, and one by a couple who claim improper treatment during the woman's pregnancy and childbirth caused their twins to suffer brain damage.

In his petition to the court seeking reinstatement of the lawsuits, Beasley said Smith, 54, appeared to function normally for months, but then stopped work on the cases.

Lawyers representing defendants in the lawsuits said Beasley is to blame for failing to supervise his employee. They suggested the people whose lawsuits were thrown out could sue Beasley for malpractice instead.

``Mr. Beasley's focus on Mr. Smith's alleged mental illness is an apparent attempt to divert this court's attention from Mr. Beasley's independent responsibilities to his clients,'' wrote Allan H. Starr, whose firm, White & Williams, represents defendants in eight of the dismissed cases.

Beasley contends that he did supervise Smith, but that Smith lied to him. Beasley fired Smith on Jan. 31, one day after learning about the lapsed cases.

No hearing has been scheduled on Beasley's petition.

Beasley declined to be interviewed for the article and accused the paper of pursuing the story because he won two libel judgments worth $40 million against the newspaper in 1990.