The COVID-19 pandemic has led to delays in trials across the country, beginning in March 2020 and continuing into 2021.  A long-awaited trial in federal court in West Virginia is the latest addition to that list.     

An eagerly anticipated bellwether trial in multidistrict opioid litigation was supposed to go forward October 19, but the federal judge overseeing the matter granted a motion to delay the start date to January 4, 2021 and is expected to issue an order setting forth protocols to govern the rescheduled trial.  

The West Virginia trial was set to move forward non-jury, with a pair of six-week segments divided by a five-week break for the holiday season.  In seeking a continuance, the defendants, three drug distributors, argued that in-person proceedings could become a “super-spreader event.”  In particular, defendants raised the “recent experience within the tightly controlled world of professional sports” to highlight that “precautions taken by one trial team in this case can be easily and swiftly upended” by the conduct of another trial team whose members are unknowingly infected or who intentionally hide symptoms.  The defendants also referenced the recent infection of several federal government officials, including the President, to “underscore the risks of bringing together large groups of people from across the country.”  The plaintiffs, local governments in Cabell County and the city of Huntington, both opposed the continuance, arguing that the risks associated with COVID-19 will be even worse in January.

There are even more risks associated with jury trials.  A federal judge in Ohio recently delayed, indefinitely, the start of another opioid bellwether trial against certain large national pharmacy chains citing “the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Chilivis Grubman recently wrote about the efforts in Georgia to safely reopen courts for jury trials.  Whether jury trials begin, and if so under what conditions, is expected to vary greatly across both state and federal courts throughout the country.  The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman are experienced trial lawyers who routinely appear in courts throughout the country.  Please contact us for your litigation needs.