MDL: Multidistrict Litigation Explained
One of the most common things we have to explain to our defective drug and device clients is why their cases are being filed in a court across the country and not in their home state. This is often done because of a legal procedure used in courts called multidistrict litigation, or “MDL” for short.
Multidistrict litigation is used when there are many cases filed in different states but where all share “one or more common questions of fact.” The multidistrict litigation process consolidates those cases into one court for pretrial proceedings, such as document production and depositions and motions which are related to the “common questions of fact.”
Multidistrict litigation occurs often in defective drug and device cases where there are thousands of people injured. The common questions of fact in those cases are liability and causation: did the defendant actually do something wrong, and did that conduct actually cause harm?
Allowing those questions to be pursued by just a single team of lawyers in front of a single judge instead of thousands of attorneys across fifty states, the Multidistrict litigation process brings speed and order to what otherwise would be chaos and delay.
After pretrial proceedings are complete, the cases can be sent back to the original courts in which they were filed for final resolution. The work done by the single team is then shared with all of the other attorneys who have clients in the litigation.
Multidistrict litigation in defective drug and device cases is different from class actions in that each plaintiff’s damages are different and, therefore, determined on an individual basis. In a class action case, the plaintiffs’ damages are identical and divided equally. Also, in a class action suit, the lawsuit is brought by only one plaintiff (the “class representative”) on behalf of a group of people who share the same circumstances and damages. In multidistrict litigation, many people sue one defendant, but their individual cases remain and do not become lumped together. Multidistrict litigation is useful in defective drug and device lawsuits because plaintiffs typically have experienced different injuries from the same product.
Although it is not a perfect system, multidistrict litigation streamlines what would otherwise be a disorganized mess of cases in thousands of courts across the country.
If you are a client or fellow attorney and have any questions about the multidistrict litigation process, please feel free to call me at 703-931-5500.