A West Virginia judge urged parties in dozens of asbestos lawsuits to reach a settlement and avoid the “dreadful experience” of a live trial next week while the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
Judge Ronald Wilson said Wednesday in a court filing that he was forced to move the July 28 trial, which consolidates 38 cases naming scores of defendants, out of a local courthouse to a 4,000-square-foot conference center near Wheeling, West Virginia, to accommodate social distancing guidelines.
“For those of you who have not experienced it, a trial with everyone wearing masks and jurors, attorneys, clients, witnesses, and the judge separated by 6 feet — with the judge, the attorneys, and the witness trying to communicate — is a dreadful experience,” Wilson said.
“If you’re going to settle — do it now and avoid this,” he urged the parties.
As of Tuesday, West Virginia had reported around 5,200 Covid-19 cases and 101 deaths from the disease. Earlier this month, Governor Jim Justice limited public gatherings to 25 people, but court proceedings are exempt.
States such as Florida have re-started jury trials despite a surge in coronavirus cases in their areas. Other states are putting off in-person trials and seeking to use Zoom and other video-conferencing systems to keep dockets moving.
The plaintiffs in Wilson’s trial are suing makers and distributors of asbestos, a building material which has been strongly linked to cancer. West Virginia’s history with the mining and chemical industry has generated thousands of asbestos suits over the years.
Wilson has overseen asbestos litigation in the state since 2002. He said about 98% of the cases set for trial before him over the years have settled.
The West Virginia case is In RE: Asbestos Personal Injury Litigation – Civil Action No. 03-C-9600, June 2020 Trial Group, Lung Cancer Group 18 (Wheeling).
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