What is an MDL?

MDL stands for multidistrict litigation. They can involve many different case types from airplane crashes to hotel fires to fraud, but many involve defective medical devices and dangerous drugs. For example, assume a drug has been pulled off the market because it was manufactured improperly, resulting in hundreds of injuries/deaths. As this news spreads, attorneys begin filing suits on behalf of victims. If enough suits are filed against the same manufacturer for the same injuries, it may be suggested that the judicial panel on MDL consolidate the cases before a single judge so that they can be managed by one court. MDL cases are grouped together for purposes of pretrial litigation, but resolved individually.

Steps of an MDL

  1. Attorneys file claims against a manufacturer for similar injuries caused by the same drug or device.
  2. As the number of these claim grow, someone involved in the lawsuit motions the judicial panel to consolidate the claims to an MDL. Before consolidating to a specific court, the judicial panel should consider the following:
    1. Whether there are one or more common questions of fact;
    2. If transfer is for convenience; and
    3. If transfer will promote judicial efficiency, economy and fairness.
  3. When this motion passes, the Judicial Panel will select the court and judge where the litigation will preside.
  4. The district court of the MDL will set pretrial orders to inform all the attorneys involved of ground rules, deadlines, and procedures expected to be followed.
  5. Next, “executive” or “steering” committee’s composed of experienced litigation lawyers are appointed. These committees are responsible for representing the claimants in an MDL and managing the litigation. With the assistance of volunteer lawyers, they will provide a trial package of documents that the attorneys will need in the MDL.
  6. The discovery process, investigation and information gathering, is done at the same time for all of the plaintiffs to obtain the basic facts of the case. The judge in the MDL decides on critical issues involving discovery, such as if the evidence is sufficient enough for claims to proceed to jury trial.
  7. To conclude the process, the MDL judge will work with both sides of the litigation to attempt to reach a settlement. To reach this decision the judge may decide to have a few specific jury trials for cases. It is important to keep in mind that a settlement is not guaranteed in an MDL.

Who is the Judicial Panel?

The Panel is a body within the US federal court which manages all multidistrict litigation. They have the authority to determine whether pending civil actions should be transferred to an MDL for pretrial proceeding. The Panel decides which district court and judge will handle the litigation.

What is the point of an MDL?

The purpose of this process is to streamline pretrial proceedings and avoid duplication of discovery by joining similar cases into one similar action.

Pros and Cons of Multidistrict Litigation

Suing a large corporation with practically unlimited resources and is very willing to fight can be pretty expensive, which is why the consolidating of claims is so important. An MDL makes it cheaper for individual plaintiffs to distributing costs among hundreds to thousands of plaintiffs and attorneys. The main drawback of and MDL is the fact that it can be a fairly lengthy process. Litigation can often drag out to five or even more years. MDL claimants should not expect a quick or guaranteed resolution of their case.