With the dangers of smoking having been widely known for several decades, it is difficult to comprehend that tobacco litigation remains ongoing, with new cases continuing to arise. However, some American courts currently involved in mass tort and individual tobacco litigation are running into a new problem during litigation: the inability to find impartial members of the public to serve as jurors.
For instance, in a recent mass tort tobacco lawsuit in West Virginia state court, attorneys for both sides had to begin with jury pool of 8,000 residents before narrowing the final jury down to 10. Two previous attempts to empanel a jury in the case had failed, with one such attempt leading to a mistrial in 2011. The suit is centered in Kanawha County but involved hundreds of individual plaintiffs from across the state and beyond.
While public attitudes about smoking and tobacco companies cut both ways, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find potential jurors who have not made up their minds one way or the other:
- Many have come to believe that information about the dangers of smoking is so widely available that smokers cannot help but bear the lion’s share of the fault for their own illnesses.
- Others are overtly hostile to tobacco companies and would like to see them held liable, regardless of the specific facts of the case.
Either way, justice requires that jurors enter the process without preformed opinions and be prepared to render a verdict based on the evidence rather than their own predilections and prejudices. Finding truly impartial jurors to decide these cases is just one of the many challenges that tobacco litigation attorneys continue to face while advocating for their clients.