Multi-district litigation is a way to manage large numbers of court cases against the same defendant and involving the same issues. Some high-profile MDLs currently underway include the Zantac (ranitidine) cancer lawsuits, opioid suits, and Roundup product liability litigation. But, there are many other MDLs you never hear about. As of mid-October, there were 186 MDLs pending in federal district courts around the country.
MDL consolidates cases filed in federal court all over the country into one bundle for case management purposes. This does not mean that the cases are tried together, which is one reason multi-district litigation can go on for years.
Instead, the court gathers the cases together for purposes of discovery, ruling on evidentiary issues that will impact many or all of the cases and other common matters.
How Does Multi-district Litigation Work?
When a large number of similar cases are filed in different federal district courts around the country, these cases may be by court order into multi-district litigation in a single district. Once the cases have been consolidated, Any claim that fits the MDL parameters filed in federal court becomes part of the MDL.
An MDL may include dozens of cases, hundreds of cases, or even more. The Johnson & Johnson talcum powder MDL includes more than 36,000 plaintiffs. And, one current case involving earplugs that were supplied to U.S. soldiers has more than 270,000 plaintiffs, with that number continuing to increase.
The larger the number of filings, the more beneficial consolidation of the cases becomes in terms of efficiently addressing the claims and cutting the time to resolution.
What is the purpose of MDL?
Multi-district litigation can be beneficial to plaintiff’s, defendants, and the court system. It can significantly reduce the burden on the judicial system and saves duplication of efforts.
At the same time, multi-district litigation can provide valuable information that may help the parties settle many of the claims, meaning those cases may be resolved more quickly and the plaintiffs will receive compensation sooner. This happens in part through the trial of bellwether cases.
What is a Bellwether Case?
The word “bellwether” means “an indicator or predictor.” Bellwether cases are cases that are chosen to be tried early in the MDL, to give everyone involved a better idea of what to expect as the litigation moves forward. The process differs somewhat from MDL to MDL, but generally, both the plaintiffs and the defendants have the opportunity to choose some of the bellwether cases.
Naturally, plaintiffs are inclined to choose strong cases that they expect to result in large jury verdicts, while defendants generally push forward weaker cases they have a better chance of winning. The outcome of these cases helps both sides get a realistic idea of the value of the claims.
How is MDL Different from a Class Action?
In a class action, a small number of named plaintiffs serve as representatives for the entire class. The claims of the entire class are tried or settled together. The class action structure is much more efficient than trying cases individually and allows plaintiffs with small claims they might not otherwise be able to pursue to receive some compensation. However, in a class-action case, plaintiffs do not receive damages based on their specific losses. The class may be broken into subclasses, with some receiving larger or smaller amounts from the settlement depending on the nature of their claim and damages. But each member of a subclass receives compensation based on the formula applied to that class.
In a non-class-action personal injury or product liability lawsuit, damages are based on the plaintiff’s actual losses, such as medical expenses, lost income, and loss of quality of life. This generally results in larger awards for successful plaintiffs. But it also means that the cases must be tried individually, or in very small groups with very similar issues.
MDL preserves the individual assessment of damages and liability while streamlining the process and perhaps facilitating settlements.
How Do I Know if My Issue is Part of an MDL?
You may be able to determine whether your claim is related to a current MDL by conducting an internet search for your issue, or by consulting a local personal injury or product liability attorney. However, since MDLs are made up of many different individual cases, the answer to that question won’t affect your first steps.
Whether your case would fall under an existing MDL, would not be part of an MDL, or might begin as an individual claim and later be consolidated, it starts with finding the right personal injury or product liability attorney.
Attorney Kevin P. Broderick has extensive experience fighting for fair compensation for injury victims in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. You can schedule a free consultation right now by calling 978-459-3085 or filling out the contact form on this site.
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