A New York attorney interviewed 53 prospective jurors about their backgrounds and careers and whether those factors could affect their judgment in an asbestos case readying for trial in Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison's courtroom.
Douglas D. von Oiste initiated a series of questions Tuesday in a 2010 asbestos lawsuit filed by local asbestos firm Gori and Julian of Edwardsville.
"I want to go over some general topics," von Oiste said. "No one is trying to pry into your business here. There are really no wrong answers here.
"If there's something you feel we need to know, now is the time. I encourage you to share your mind. I think you know this is an asbestos case."
During the afternoon session of voir dire, van Oiste pointed out the plaintiff's apparent lack of connection to Madison County.
"I'm not from Madison County," he said. "My clients aren't from Madison County. The events aren't from Madison County."
He asked the assembled potential jurors if the jury has a problem with that. One female juror admitted she did.
Plaintiff Robert Kreimer and his wife, Margie Kreimer, of Cleves, Ohio, filed suit against more than 50 defendant companies when he became aware of his mesothelioma, an asbestos-induced disease, on Nov. 11, 2010. The complaint does not indicate Robert Kreimer's birth date, only that he was born in 1935, making him 76 of 77 years of age.
The two defendants going to trial are mechanical seal manufacturer John Crane Co. and metal valve maker Crane Co.
Crane Co. attorney Clifton Hutchinson of Dallas described the case to jurors as an individual bringing a claim against a corporation.
He asked if anyone has had a bad experience with a big company; he asked if anyone had left a position in a company because they were treated unfairly. He also asked if any jurors believed if any amount of asbestos, one fiber or one CC of asbestos causes an injury.
"Who believes that injured people should get something?" Hutchinson asked
A female juror told him it would be hard for her to listen to testimony; another female juror admitted she couldn't be fair.
Another juror said, "People say Madison County has a lot of lawsuits."
A female juror said big companies bring profits first and can't be trusted to do the right thing.
"Money is the root of all evil, and a lot of people will do anything for money," she said.
Kreimer was a pipefitter from 1956-1986 for various contractors, including Johnson Controls, Robert Shaw, EJ Nolan, M.W. Kellogg Piping, Bechtel, Combustion Engineering, Babcock & Wilcox and Kaiser Engineering and various industrial and commercial job sites in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, his suit states.
"There's no cure for this disease, mesothelioma," von Oiste said during the morning voir dire.
"Mesothelioma is a completely separate cancer. If you're not exposed to asbestos, you don't get mesothelioma. We're just trying to get a fair jury.
"Is everyone able to listen to what this case is about?"
Von Oiste explained he would ask the jury to evaluate what his client has been going through.
"I think a good many of you wrote there's too many lawsuits," von Oiste said in reference to what the jurors put in their jury questionnaire.
"My client is asking for money," von Oiste said. "He can't ask for his health back. He can only ask for money."
Von Oiste asked the jury if they could follow what the judge tells them.
"You listen to the evidence," he said. "We all start in the same place. That judge is going to tell you what the law is, and you're going to listen to the facts."
Von Oiste told a male juror he was "the wrong guy for the case."
"I appreciate your honesty," von Oiste said.
He asked another juror if she thought it was wrong to sue, since she was involved in an accident and chose not to sue.
One of the jurors, a research scientist with teaching experience, told von Oiste he could sit on a jury and be fair and impartial.
The lawsuit states that the plaintiff's exposure to asbestos fibers should have been anticipated by the defendants. The lawsuit also states that defendants agreed and "conspired among themselves" and with other asbestos manufacturers, distributors, and trade organizations, to injure the plaintiff.
The manufacturers, sellers, suppliers and premises owners acted in concert with insurers such as Travelers and Liberty Mutual and others, including the Johns-Manville Corp., Raymark Industries, Inc., Celotex Corp. and its predecessors with the intent to deceive and misinform decedents, the suit states.
Evidence destroyed includes preliminary reports of toxicology and epidemiology studies, records of meetings between the agents and employees of the alleged conspirators, including those conducted under the auspices of trade associations and records of plant and premise inspections reporting asbestos and other hazards, the suit states..
Randy Gori of Gori Julian and Associates requested an admission of counsel, Sept. 7 for von Oiste.
According to his web site, von Oiste, a partner at Karst & von Oiste, has more than $170 million in jury verdicts, including $110 million in Powers vs. A.O. Smith Corporation; $36 million in Martin vs. Robert Keasbey Corporation; $18.5 million in Penn vs. Kerr Corporation; and $5 million in Wallace vs. York Corporation.
He has worked exclusively in the area of asbestos litigation his entire legal career, his site claims.
Asbestos lawsuits typically names dozens of corporations as defendants, and many settle or are dismissed prior to trial.
And, trials in the nation's largest asbestos docket are extremely rare. The last one in Madison County occurred in March 2010 in a case against Ford Motor Co. and ended in a defense verdict.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs had asked for more than $14 million in damages.
Ford was sued along with a number of other brake manufacturers for allegedly selling products that caused a Chicago man's mesothelioma.
The case is Madison County case number 10-L-1256.