Multi-district litigation is a procedure very common in product liability, pharmaceutical and medical device cases. There is a federal law that creates a judicial panel on MDL. The judicial panel is comprised of seven circuit and district judges from various federal districts appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States. This panel takes cases from all over the country and consolidates them in one federal court and assigned to one federal judge.
MDL is used when numerous cases from different districts share one or more common questions of fact. For example, 200 plaintiffs from all over the U.S. may file suit against the same drug manufacturer about the same dangerous drug, yet each plaintiff’s damages are going to be different and therefore should be determined on an individual basis.
These cases may be assigned in the pretrial phase to one federal judge so that the pre-trial discovery proceedings (document production, motions and depositions) may be coordinated and consolidated. Consolidating these cases before one judge, rather than involving dozens or hundreds of judges across numerous districts, promotes judicial economy and economic efficiency for both sides.
A small example of that is that it allows the deposition of a corporate representative to be taken one time in the MDL rather than 20 times in 20 different cases. This saves both sides costs.
Once the pretrial proceedings are finalized, and no settlement is reached, the cases are remanded (sent back) to the courts in which each lawsuit was originally filed for trial.
Is a Multidistrict Litigation the same thing as a Class Action?
It is not. In a MDL the cases remain separate and retain their individual status. Under a class action, you have one trial which decides the entire proceeding.
In a multi-district litigation, you potentially can have many trials. These are called bellwether trials. These trials benefit all of the cases in the litigation because they provide a reasonable indication of what is likely to happen in future trials and; therefore, promote settlement of future cases. Again, that is the essential purpose of a MDL.
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