A pool of about 250 potential jurors arrived yesterday morning at Baltimore's Circuit Court, facing the possibility of six months' duty on an asbestos case in the nation's largest consolidated trial.
The case, a consolidation of more than 9,000 personal injury claims against a dozen major asbestos manufacturers, began with asbestos-injury plaintiffs briefly picketing the courthouse.
The picket signs prompted a defense motion to throw out the whole jury panel on the grounds that it might have been prejudiced.
Thus, in addition to listening to the financial and physical problems potential jurors might face in a long trial, Judge Marshall A. Levin separately questioned them about whether they saw the picketing and, if so, whether it would affect their ability to be fair. Courthouse deputies reported no problems with the brief demonstration.
When the questioning is finished and the jurors chosen, they will began hearing evidence. The jury will be asked to decide broad issues rather than individual cases: whether asbestos caused the injuries and deaths and whether the defendants knew of the danger and acted recklessly.
If the plaintiffs lose, these asbestos cases end. If they win, Judge Levin has planned to have claims grouped into smaller numbers for later trials, in which other juries would decide when and where the exposure occurred and what damages to award.