What is Multi-District Litigation in Mass Torts?

When you read about large mass tort cases, you’ve probably seen the writer refer to something called MDL. This stands for multi-district litigation. Usually, this term is used in relation to cases involving dangerous drugs, medical devices and airplane crashes.

In mass tort cases, when one plaintiff files suit in one part of the country, there are hundreds of other plaintiffs filing suit in other parts of the country. Most of these cases involve the same legal issues or questions of fact.

For example, with the Monsanto RoundUp cases, the plaintiffs are all suing Monsanto for the same thing. They’re claiming that the main ingredient in RoundUp, glyphosate, causes cancer. The facts in dispute in these cases are similar too.

Rather than having ongoing cases in every state, the cases are moved to one federal court. This federal court will handle all pre-trial proceedings and discovery. This way, the rulings are consistent and the courts don’t spend as much time and money handling the cases.

How Does Multi-District Litigation Work?

Once the court system realizes that there have been a number of cases filed in different states, they’ll look to see if the litigation qualifies for MDL. In order to do this, the cases must:

  • Have at least one legal issue in common
  • Have at least one factual question in common
  • Be filed against the same defendant
  • Include the same cause(s) of action

If the cases meet these basic criteria, the court will look to see if MDL is a good solution. Rather than have different judges in different districts hearing the same kinds of cases, the courts will consolidate the cases into one district.

With MDL, one judge is assigned to all of the cases. This judge will handle all discovery and pre-trial proceedings. The goal is for these cases to either be dismissed or settled within that one district. If this doesn’t happen, the cases will ultimately be sent back to the original court. This is where any trials would take place.

What Types of Cases are Ideal for Multi-District Litigation?

MDL only applies to civil litigation. They would never handle criminal cases using MDL. Most of the cases subject to MDL involve product liability and mass tort. Some of these cases include:

  • Dangerous drug or medical device cases
  • Defective product cases
  • Mechanical failure in an airplane crash
  • Employment law issues
  • Intellectual property cases
  • Securities fraud

If your case falls into any of these categories, there is a chance it will be assigned to mutli-district litigation. This won’t change your case all that much. You won’t actually have to travel out of state to attend any of the pre-trial hearings. And, discovery can be handled remotely. And, if your case isn’t settled, it will be transferred back to your home jurisdiction for trial.

What is the Purpose of MDL?

Although it may sound like a strange solution, MDL does serve several purposes. The main reasons for multi-district litigation is to maintain some sort of consistency in court rulings. It’s much better to have one judge decide the preliminary issues for all of the cases. Otherwise, you could have half the judges deciding the cases one way and the other half deciding them the other way. There would be no uniformity at all.

The other justification for MDL has to do with economy and efficiency. It’s a lot cheaper and easier to have one judge handle these cases than dozens. This way, only one court has to dedicate time and resources to the case. Also, rather than all of the mass tort lawyers having to attend pre-trial proceedings, only one has to. These decisions will all be determined through MDL.

The final reason the courts use MDL is to help coordinate what would otherwise be very complex litigation. It’s hard to keep track of hundreds or thousands of civil cases. When they all have to do with the same legal issue, it doesn’t make sense to handle each one individually. With MDL, the litigation becomes less complex. It also gives the courts a chance to provide consistent and uniform decisions.

Contact a Mass Tort Lawyer With Any Questions

If you’re involved in mass tort litigation or have a potential case, you should contact an experienced mass tort attorney at Rueb Stoller Daniel today. They can answer any questions you may have about multi-district litigation. They can also set your mind at ease about any concerns you may have about how MDL will affect your case.