St. Louis Gears Up for Giant Tobacco Trial

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – Jury selection in what is expected to be the longest case in city history has entered its final phase. Two hundred and fifty prospective jurors are being queried after being culled from a pool of 6,000 to hear City of St. Louis v. American Tobacco. The case pits the city and about two dozen St. Louis-area hospitals against the nation’s largest tobacco companies.

     The hospitals want Big Tobacco to reimburse them for up to $1 billion for treating uninsured patients with smoking-related illnesses who did not pay their bills since 1993.
     The tobacco companies claim the plaintiffs were not directly damaged and are not entitled to damages.
     The 103-page complaint was filed in 1998. Motions and filings have filled 42 cardboard boxes.
     This case is the only one of its kind to make it to trial. It cleared pretrial obstacles that killed more than 160 similar lawsuits across the country.
     About 6,000 prospective jurors were sent a questionnaire last summer. Due to the expected length of the case, the questionnaire dealt mainly with whether the unusually long case would cause job, child-care or other hardships.
     Of that group, 700 were selected to receive a second questionnaire regarding potential biases towards the case. From that group, 250 were chosen.
     The 250 prospective jurors will come to the court in groups of about 50 over the next weeks for the final selection phase. The usual 12 jurors and as many as 14 alternates maybe selected.
     The trial’s opening statements are scheduled for Jan. 31. It is expected to last into the summer. Jurors will not be sequestered and will receive the usual juror pay rate of $18 a day.

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