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What's the difference?
Large lawsuits for many people
A single plaintiff might not receive adequate compensation for an injury – especially when the claim is against a large corporation or pharmaceutical company.
However, many plaintiffs, joining forces, can even the playing field. There is much strength in numbers, and companies know this. That’s why attorneys often choose between a class-action lawsuit or an MDL (multidistrict litigation).
But what is the difference between those approaches? Which is best for your specific case?
Let’s examine each of them in turn.
The class-action lawsuit
In this instance, there is a single lawyer in charge, a single case before a jury, and one verdict for everyone who qualified to be in the “class.” A class-action is filed on behalf of a large number of plaintiffs with similar complaints. There will be a few plaintiffs who represent the rest of the class. (The class can involve people who weren’t even named as plaintiffs, though they have to speak up if they want to be part of the settlement.)
The court’s decision is binding upon all participants, which means the award will be split among everybody involved. If you have suffered a personal injury or a wrongful death, this is not the best option because those losses are generally sufficient on their own.
The multidistrict litigation and the mass tort
This form of litigation was created in 1968 and involves multiple lawsuits filed by multiple parties, everywhere across the country. An MDL is a way to compensate individuals who are victims of mass torts, so these terms go hand in hand.
A mass tort involves hundreds or thousands of people who are injured in the same way, and they are led by a group of attorneys called the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee. For example, if a product is recalled (like a hip replacement) after harming many patients, that mass tort would be a ripe case for an MDL.
Each plaintiff has his or her own attorney, and each receives his or her own trial.
These are called MDLs because these cases are filed nationally; the court system, however, requires that they be consolidated before one judge for pretrial proceedings. That saves everyone a lot of time and money. Then, those cases are sent back to their original court to be tried. They also aren’t bound by other results in the same MDL. Awards for damages will most likely be much larger than those of a class-action lawsuit. Often, attorneys can work out a potential settlement that benefits everyone, though plaintiffs can refuse to accept those terms and proceed with their case.
However, some experts believe that MDLs have taken over various aspects of litigation, becoming too routine for defendants and a burden on plaintiffs. Corporations have learned to play the game; by stalling as long as possible before dumping endless boxes of evidence on plaintiffs, they can hold off on paying damages even longer. Additionally, having many similar cases in front of the same judge can result in that judge glazing over evidence and making similar, if not identical, rulings.
What to look for in a class-action/MDL attorney
Attorneys generally have a preference for class-action lawsuits or multidistrict litigation; most go for MDLs, simply because each plaintiff still gets to make an individual case.
If you think your case is something that many other people have experienced (a side effect from medications, a defective product, etc.), then your case will likely qualify for one of these methods of litigation. However, only an experienced attorney can tell you that. It’s not something you would ask of the attorney; he or she would decide if you’d be best served by using that approach.
If you need someone to help you, consider some of the resources below and speak with some of the attorneys listed in Enjuris. They will be able to assist you.
Resources to help you hire the best lawyer
- How damages are calculated
- Choosing a personal injury attorney – interview questions
- Preparing to meet with a personal injury attorney
- Negotiating lawyers’ fees - how do accident lawyers charge? Are there any hidden costs?
- When do you NOT need an attorney after an accident?
- How to talk to a lawyer
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.