Battle Over Vaccination Requirement for Jurors in Opioid MDL Continues

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel


On September 21, 2021, attorneys for Turnbull and Lake Counties filed a bench brief asking Northern District of Ohio Judge Dan Aaron Polster to exclude 39 potential jurors from the upcoming bellwether trial in the opioid litigation because they have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

In the brief, the plaintiffs argue that allowing unvaccinated jurors on the jury will likely cause disruptions during the proceedings and an increased risk of a mistrial. The brief goes on to refer to recent CDC studies which show that unvaccinated people are nearly five times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated and are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated.

The plaintiff counties argue that serving on a six-week jury trial unquestionably increases the risk that an unvaccinated juror will become infected with COVID-19 and presents the potential to require hospitalization. The brief asserts that by placing unvaccinated jurors on the jury, the court would create undue hardships and extreme inconveniences to both vaccinated and unvaccinated jurors. The plaintiffs point out that many vaccinated potential jurors indicated that serving on a jury with unvaccinated people would cause them to become anxious and distracted from the facts of the case.

This battle over whether or not vaccinations will be mandatory for jurors serving in this multidistrict litigation has been going on since June 2021 when Judge Polster initially stated that he would only allow vaccinated people to sit on juries in this litigation. However, after the defendants protested the vaccination mandate, arguing that vaccination rates vary by race, gender and political views and that only allowing vaccinated jurors would result in a jury that doesn’t adequately reflect a fair cross-section of the community, Judge Polster reversed his previous order.

The case is: In re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation, Case No.: 1:17-md-02804, all in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

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