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What is an MDL, and how does it help me in a lawsuit or settlement?
Big lawsuits for a lot of people
It can be daunting to sue a major corporation or pharmaceutical company. They have money. They have resources. You’re a middle school teacher or a janitor or an insurance salesman who has a mortgage, two kids and a wife. You don’t exactly have the ability to sue whomever you want at the drop of a hat. Especially if it’s for something like a defective product or a drug with nasty side effects.
This is why one single plaintiff might not receive satisfactory compensation for an injury in a personal injury settlement. It’s easier to squash one plaintiff.
However, a lot of plaintiffs, together, can make a good go of it. Companies know that there is strength in numbers. That’s why, if the case is against a large company, attorneys will often choose between a class-action lawsuit and an MDL (multidistrict litigation).
We will be focusing on MDLs for this article, but you can also read more about class-action lawsuits.
The multidistrict litigation (MDL) and the mass tort
Multidistrict litigation was created in 1968 and involves many lawsuits filed by many parties, anywhere across the country. An MDL helps those who are victims of mass torts.
While people think “mass tort” is the way to approach the case, it actually refers to the type of injury. An MDL is a way to compensate them for that injury.
A mass tort involves hundreds or even thousands of people who are injured in a similar way, and they are led by a select group of MDL lawyers called the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee. For instance, if a product is recalled (like a hip replacement or a defective drug) after causing harm to a significant number of patients all across the country, that mass tort would be a perfect case for an MDL.
These cases can be nationwide because every plaintiff has his or her own attorney, and everyone gets their own individual trial.
These are called multidistrict litigation because these cases are filed nationally; in order to consolidate time and money, however, the cases will be grouped together for pre-trial purposes and discovery. That saves a lot of the redundancy for defendants and streamlines the process for plaintiffs.
Afterward, those cases are sent back to be tried where they were originally filed. They also aren’t bound by other results in the same MDL, so if another plaintiff fails, you still might succeed.
Awards for MDL damages will also likely be larger than those of a class-action lawsuit. Often, attorneys can work out a potential settlement for the entire class of plaintiffs, though plaintiffs can decline to accept those terms and go forward with their individual case. However, they do run the risk of their case being dismissed.
Some experts feel that MDLs have overtaken aspects of litigation, becoming too predictable for defendants and a burden on plaintiffs.
Corporations have learned how to play the multidistrict litigation game: They dither, stalling as long as possible, and then they do an information dump during discovery to bury the plaintiffs in paperwork. This means they can hold off on paying damages. Additionally, even though it’s only pre-trial proceedings, having so many cases in front of the same judge can mean the judge making similar, if not identical, rulings on each.
Pending MDL lawsuits
As of January 16, 2018, there are hundreds of thousands of cases currently pending. They vary among their topics:
- Air disaster
- Common disaster
- Employment practices
- Intellectual property
- Products liability
Let’s take a look at some of the multidistrict litigation products liability cases, as those are most relevant to personal injury. There are many hip replacement implant cases brought by MDL lawyers, a score of pharmaceutical cases – even one for top-loading washing machines.
- MDL #2158: In Re: Zimmer Durom Hip Cup Products Liability Litigation: Plaintiffs in the western district of Louisiana and the eastern district of Texas moved to centralize litigation in New Jersey. There were more plaintiffs from all over (Kentucky, California, Florida, New Jersey, Arizona, Illinois and Ohio), with 45 actions pending in the case. The court found that there were common questions of fact and that centralization in New Jersey would be the most convenient for all parties. This would also avoid “duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings on discovery and other issues, and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.”
- MDL #2197: In Re: DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., ASR Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation: These cases were consolidated in the northern district of Ohio for the convenience of all parties (1,640 cases currently pending). The defendants tried to stop the consolidation by claiming there were pending motions to remove to state court and motions to dismiss, but the ordering judge decided that the transferee judge could examine everything.
- MDL #2342: In Re: Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Products Liability Litigation: This was created on April 17, 2012 and was consolidated in the eastern district of Pennsylvania. This MDL has moved farther along than the other cases named here, and it relates to “allegations that Zoloft, a prescription medication approved for the treatment of depression and other ailments, causes birth defects in children when their mothers ingest the drug while pregnant.”
What to look for in an MDL lawyer
Attorneys usually have a predilection either for class-action lawsuits or multidistrict litigation; most choose MDLs, because each individual plaintiff still gets to make his or her own case. If your case falls into one of those topics named above, then you will likely meet the requirements for one of these methods of litigation. However, only an experienced MDL lawyer can tell you that. It’s not something you would need to ask of the attorney; he or she would decide if you’d be best served by joining an MDL.
If you need someone to assist you, check out some of the articles below and talk to some MDL lawyers in the Enjuris directory. They will be able to help 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.