Lawyer wanted potential jurors' written answers to avoid 'tainting' process

Steve Gonzalez May 15, 2008, 11:51am

A plaintiff's attorney in a medical malpractice trial currently under way in Madison County Circuit Court had wanted potential jurors to answer questions in writing rather than out loud because of "increased biases against all civil lawsuits."

Attorney Tom Falb of Alton represents Ruth Mathus who sued Aaron Wesp, M.D. and Robert Lutan, M.D. on Feb. 2, 2005, alleging the doctors deviated from the standard of care when treating her husband, Richard Mathus, who died Nov. 2, 2003.

Prior to the trial Falb filed a motion asking Associate Judge Tom Chapman, who is presiding over the trial portion of the case for Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron, to allow him to submit a written juror questionnaire to the panel of potential jurors.

"As the court and attorneys are aware of recent publicity and recent jury selections have shown that there has been increased biases against all civil lawsuits, and especially lawsuits against doctors," Falb wrote.

Falb said if jurors are asked questions concerning this bias their verbal answers could "taint" the jury selection process causing at minimum, prejudice to the parties or a mistrial.

"In addition, a jury questionnaire will lead to more honest and frank answers by the prospective jurors," Falb wrote.

Falb also said a jury questionnaire would be more efficient and cut down on the time it takes to select a jury.

Wesp is represented by Jeffrey Glass of Belleville.

Lutan is represented by James Neville of Belleville.

Glass asked Chapman to deny Falb's motion stating that the questionnaire would "greatly extend the time it will take to select a jury and is unduly burdensome."

"During voir dire, plaintiff's attorney will have ample opportunity to question prospective jurors to determine juror qualification and to expose any prejudice," Glass wrote.

Glass also said a juror questionnaire would ask questions that are "burdensome and immaterial."

Glass also argued that a questionnaire would prohibit him from viewing juror reactions to questions.

Jurors were picked without the questionnaire.

Mathus claims her husband had been prescribed the drug amiodarone in September 2002 for a heart condition. She alleges her husband died due to side effects from amiodarone.

Amiodarone is an antiarrhythmic medication that affects the rhythm of heartbeats. It is used to help keep the heart beating normally in people with life-threatening heart rhythm disorders of the ventricles.

Mathus claims Wesp and Lutan committed professional negligence by failing to give proper informed consent to her husband regarding alternatives and dangers of the drug, failed to advise his family regarding the testing and monitoring required with the drug, failed to timely discover the ill effects of the drug and failed to treat the effects of drug including, stopping its use.

She also claims Lutan failed to know that amiodarone should not have been used in Richard's case of atrial flutter, failed to determine whether the atrial flutter was less than or more than 48 hours old, failed to rule out blood clots in the heart and improperly kept him on the medication after being released from the hospital.

Mathus claims that prior to his death, Richard experienced pain and suffering, loss of a normal life and medical expenses.

Both doctors deny they deviated from the standard of care in their treatment of Mathus.

The trial is expected to last until late May.

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