5-10-13 Trial set in Charleston against tobacco makers

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – A mass litigation trial against the nation’s largest tobacco manufacturers will be decided in a Charleston courtroom.

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin next week before Ohio County Senior Judge Arthur Recht in the cases filed on behalf of about 700 plaintiffs who claim they were harmed by tobacco use.

The cases were filed against Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, American Tobacco Co., Brown and Williamson and Lorillard.

Recht said if the companies are found liable, the cases will be broken down into smaller groups, and different juries in future trials will determine whether damages should be awarded.

“Once we get answers to those questions, we can begin trying the 800 or so cases,” he said.

Recht said about 10 more judges will be appointed to hear those cases, most likely in the southern part of the state.

Some 8,000 Kanawha County residents were called for the jury pool. Six jurors and two alternates were chosen.

“We believe this may be the largest jury pool from one county called for one case,” said state Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy. “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 May 13. Jurors are expected to begin deliberations May 14.

A mistrial was declared during a first trial in Wheeling in 2011 and there was a failed subsequent attempt to seat a jury in Kanawha County.

Former Attorney General Darrell McGraw joined 44 other states in a class action lawsuit against tobacco companies. A 1996 settlement resulted in a $1.8 billion payout for the state.

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