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What is Multi District Litigation

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What Is Multi District Litigation (MDL)? A Guide For Beginners

Everything You Need To Know About Multidistrict Litigation

When you’re talking about different lawsuits filed by various people in a multitude of federal courthouses and a judge gets them all and transferred to one court only, it will be called multi-district litigation (MDL).

Class-action litigation only involved a single case filed by many people who have experienced a similar problem caused by the same defendant/s. The class members can combine their complaints into one legal action.

For an MDL, it allows each class member’s individual needs to be handled while experiencing the benefits that have been linked to class action cases, like the grouping of resources required to face big companies with a lot of resources of their own.

When Are MDL Used?

The reason MDLs were created by Congress is primarily to save time and money and to make sure similar results in cases that take into consideration many people who have the same complaints.

They often revolve around dangerous prescribed drugs, faulty medical equipment, and securities fraud. MDLs also involves a lot of individual lawsuits or dozens of class action lawsuits.

How Are MDL Started?

Let’s say many people have issues with one defective product they bought recently, their individual attorneys can ask the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to create an MDL to combine the cases.

Don’t forget that even if cases are linked together into an MDL, you will need to keep your attorney’s services, although this only applies to mass tort lawsuits and not class action lawsuits, as there’s no need to get an attorney to be part of a class action.

The court will then need to name a group of lawyers from all the affected states to organize pretrial proceedings and help close the litigation.

What Happens In An MDL?

After an MDL is created, the case may proceed to the discovery phase, where the business that is being used will be asked to give paperwork that has the related details to complaints made in the lawsuits.

Witnesses will also be asked under oath during depositions, and their testimonies may be used at trial to either support or rebut allegations in the lawsuits.

The attorneys may also file pretrial motions with the judge about issues in discovery, and if any of the evidence is admissible during the trial, the judge may also hold hearings to know the extent of discovery and decide on any discovery disputes that may come up in court.

Once discovery is made, the judge may choose some individual lawsuits to move forward as bellwether trials or test runs, but the result of such trials is bonding on a certain plaintiff.

A bellwether trial is used by both plaintiffs and defendants to predict how the jury will rule.

Based on the outcome, a defendant and their attorney may decide not to go into a settlement.

But if at any point of the MDL the attorneys want to go into a global settlement, they can do so for all the cases involved in the litigation.

Suppose there is no settlement agreement by the end of the bellwether trials.

In that case, the cases are sent back to the courts they were originally filed and proceed in individual cases. Your own attorney will then decide if they will withdraw your case or go on with the trial. Bellwether trials are also used in mass tort actions.

What Are the Benefits of a Bellwether Trial?

The plaintiffs get to present their evidence and focus on their complaints that will get them the win in court, while the defendant gets an option to go through litigation with other cases that might also be involved, or they can settle out of court.

The judge and legislators can see bellwether trials as a sign of future trends in the legal industry.

It also gives an advantage to the legal system if there are no other options for handling a big caseload.

A bellwether trial will not guarantee that it will have the same verdict across an MDL; they will serve as an example of the current case situation and how to best move forward from it.

Advantages and Disadvantages of MDL Proceedings

Advantages for defendants

It is cost-effective and easier for big company defendants to litigate issues of fact in one court instead of going to many courts.

Some defendants don’t want their witnesses to be deposed so many times, but there are instances, depending on the case, that a witness can be deposed twice, but no more.

It usually happens when individual lawsuits are not combined into an MDL. Multiple depositions of a witness may increase the chance of any witnesses either changing their answers or give inconsistent replies to the same questions.

Advantages for plaintiffs

In MDL proceedings, plaintiffs’ attorneys can centralize their resources and manage their efforts, which may help to increase the money and resources needed to litigate the case.

Advantages as a whole

Having many cases consolidated in an MDL means the presiding judge’s knowledge, science, and relevant law will assuredly result in carefully thought out decisions throughout the pretrial hearing.

If one or more common cases are heard in different courts, there is a higher chance that the decision will be different. When they are heard in only one court, both sides can readily expect a more consistent outcome.

Disadvantages for defendants

More publicity in relation to multidistrict litigation (MDL) can push new plaintiffs to file individual lawsuits, which is usually not a good sign for defendants.

A pretrial discovery, which is always included in an MDL, discourages any delay, which defendants often use to their benefit.

How any MDL is managed lessens any delay, which is usually seen in regular litigation proceedings.

Filing a case and doing everything on your own without an MDL can take many years, and it works perfectly, especially for a pharmaceutical company with a lot of money and legal resources at hand.

They can delay the proceedings with motion practice and protracted discovery. While they can afford a lot of lawyers over time, a plaintiff usually cannot.

An MDL can somehow expedite the proceeding and lessen the litigation costs.

How Do Defendants See a Multi District Litigation (MDL)

An MDL has always been an important part of the US civil litigation system, making up over half of the entire country’s total civil caseload. Product liability cases make up most of the existing MDLs.

An MDL often benefits the plaintiffs’ attorneys, as they can use the cases they won to get more clients, citing the amount they won for their clients.

Although for the rest of the litigation participants, asides from whoever won the MDL, there seem to be no other advantages.

Defendants not only have to deal with the costs an MDL brings them, but since the cases are usually protracted, it adds more to the expenses that they incur, which is why some companies prefer to settle.

But when they settle, they often do so with a group of plaintiffs where some are not even supposed to be included.

Some defense attorneys even noted that a mass tort doesn’t need any prodding anymore, as potential plaintiffs are all too eager to be in the lawsuit, even if they have not even touched or known the product in question. 

This scenario will be disadvantageous not just for the companies involved but also for the real plaintiffs as the settlement they’d get will be less than what it rightfully should be because of so many fake plaintiffs.

Why does this happen in an MDL?

The reason is that no one has the energy to go through thousands of claims and prove which is legitimate and which are not early in the litigation when it comes to an MDL.

With class-action litigations, you’ll find a filtering system. The court needs to look at a case thoroughly before deliberating if they can classify it as a class action or not.

They are also required to decide if they really need individual lawsuits than any method available to get the complaints resolved.

This system does not exist in an MDL. The court will not identify which claims are legitimate or not, nor will it legitimize a class of potential plaintiffs in an MDL.

Lawyers involved in an MDL can advertise for potential plaintiffs or, better dais, people who identify as injured parties, and this may be a lot.

However, this will not be good as they may feel loaded to the point that they will state that the number of related cases made it difficult to track down clients.

But is there a way to weed out who is legitimate and who’s not? Let’s go over a few.

Possible solutions to identify meritless claims in an MDL

There is always a need for a source of information about the potential plaintiffs and a way to screen into their cases, and there is no better way to do this than through social media.

People reveal a lot of their life online, especially in public posts, but those who have set their privacy in social media will not be included in the following observations, as there is no other way to view what they post or what their other details are unless they accept you into their friends’ list.

Let’s say a potential plaintiff is claiming injury because of an improperly placed or defective hip implant; then, when you check for any public posts they have on social media, you’ll see a few months’ worths of skiing videos on the Aspen slopes.

Another example would be a public Facebook post where a potential plaintiff talked about the injury when they used a particular product, and the post date was more than two years ago, they may not be included in the lawsuit if the statute of limitations is set at exactly two years.

There are a lot more options in finding out whether a potential plaintiff is legitimate or not, but what’s most important is if the courts have enough manpower to do so.

What is MDL

Editor’s note on What Is Multi District Litigation:

This guide is created to explain one of the basic terms in a lawsuit situation, Multi District Litigation. 

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We highly suggest you read our similar guides – What Is An Antitrust Lawsuit? Or What Exactly Is A Class Action Lawsuit?

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