September 10, 2010 - Hospitals in St. Louis are expecting to finally go to trial against the tobacco industry next January in what is expected to be one of the longest civil trials in city history.
Due to the fact that the trial may last six to seven months, the court has sent out surveys to 6,000 potential jurors to find 12 people who can commit for such a long time. The court is hoping to pull together a pool of about 600 from the surveys and then begin sorting out those based on biases.
More than 30 hospitals are seeking $1 billion from cigarette makers, claiming their products caused serious, preventable illnesses that the hospitals were forced to treat. They say the money will go towards recovering funds spent on treating uninsured patients and those who did not pay their medical bills, going back to 1993. The cigarette companies argue that because the hospitals did not suffer direct damage from cigarettes, they should not be allowed to collect money for other people’s problems. The case could be precedent-setting for similar cases around the country.
Both sides have been going through pretrial arguments for nearly 12 years, since the hospitals first filed their lawsuit in November 1998. (CITY OF ST. LOUIS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. AMERICAN TOBACCO COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants. No. 4:98CV02087 ERW, July 2, 1999))
In 2001, Judge Michael Calvin ruled that the case was worthy of a jury trial, but it has been stalled in the “discovery” stage ever since, as the two sides battle to produce admissible evidence.
Experts expect it to set precedents for similar cases across the country, as it is the only one of its kind to leap some legal hurdles that killed more than 160 similar cases in courts across the country.
The hospitals are seeking to recover losses for patients treated since 1993, which is potentially $1 billion.
Initially, the plaintiffs were 44 hospitals, including most of the major facilities in St. Louis, plus the city itself on behalf of its clinics and the now-closed City Hospital. Nearly a dozen have since dropped out for various reasons.
References: 12-Year-Long Lawsuit by Hospitals against Tobacco Companies Inches Towards Jury Selection, Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky, ALLGOV.com, 9/8/20-10; Giant jury pool considered for big-stakes St. Louis trial by HEATHER RATCLIFFE (firstname.lastname@example.org), stltoday.com, 9/3/2010.