CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jurors selected from what could be the largest panel ever assembled in the state's history are expected to begin deciding next week if tobacco companies are liable to West Virginia smokers.
Senior Status Circuit Judge Arthur Recht will preside in the trial, which began April 22 in the ceremonial courtroom of the old Kanawha County Courthouse.
Five major tobacco companies are named in the case, in which about 700 West Virginia smokers are trying to establish that they were harmed by using tobacco.
The six jurors and two alternates were chosen from a panel of 8,000 Kanawha County residents, the largest ever summoned in the state, Kanawha County Circuit Clerk Cathy Gatson believes.
West Virginia Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy said, "We believe this may be the largest jury pool from one county called for one case. The only other case to require a jury pool of that size was another tobacco litigation case that was heard in the Northern Panhandle. Several thousand jurors were called, but they came from several counties."
Closing arguments are set for 1 p.m. May 13 and jurors are expected to begin deliberations May 14.
The plaintiffs are trying to convince jurors the tobacco companies were negligent, designed a defective product or fraudulently withheld information about their products.
The jury also will decide if the companies could be liable for punitive damages.
The companies named as defendants are R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, American Tobacco Co., Philip Morris and Lorillard.
If the companies are found liable, different juries in future trials will determine if damages should be awarded and, if so, the amount, Recht said.
Two previous efforts to seat a jury in Kanawha County proved unsuccessful, Gatson said.