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A multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a group of lawsuits filed in one common location; however, it is not a class action lawsuit. Instead, each plaintiff maintains control over his or her own claim.

The claims are filed in one common venue, usually in front of a federal court judge. The judge can make the case consist of a pre-trial ruling and discovery; and the case is resolved. Then, from the hundreds and thousands of cases that are selected, a handful are chosen and moved forward for trial. Those trials are the bellwether trials. They are important for everybody who has a metal-on-metal hip replacement case in the United States. Often, when plaintiffs start to win some of those bellwether trials, defendants may discuss settling all of the metal-on-metal hip replacement cases that are in progress, or others might get an idea of the problems with the case. It is a judicially efficient way to handle mass litigation when there is a faulty product that has harmed hundreds and thousands of people.

Types of Cases

Attorneys see MDL cases most predominantly with tort cases, civil cases claiming personal injuries and wrongful death, and products liability cases claiming that a company or manufacturer failed to warn about the dangers or put to market an inherently dangerous product.

One of the reasons that an MDL makes sense for a medical device case is, for example, with a product like the DePuy ASR. Everyone who wants to file a lawsuit as a result of a DePuy ASR is going to be suing the same entity. There may be all these different individual plaintiffs, but only one common defendant. Therefore, it makes sense to consolidate all of that into one common place.

How Multidistrict Litigation Works

For an MDL case, you file the lawsuit depending on scheduling order, either directly into the MDL, or it is filed in the venue where the plaintiff lives. The case is transferred to the MDL and is stayed pending the bellwether trials, the pre-trial matters, and things of that nature.

Often, after five or ten bellwether trials occur, the defendant may want to settle the remainder of the cases. All the cases that are filed in the MDL may be included in a settlement.

If all of these cases do not settle and the bellwether pool is exhausted, the last option is the judge sending the cases back to the federal court venues from the states where the people live to proceed to trial.

Class Action v. MDL

A class action lawsuit has a limited number of representative plaintiffs who file a complaint alleging that they and other unnamed plaintiffs were harmed in the same manner by the actions of the defendant. An example of a class action lawsuit is when 10,000 people lose $100 each on their cellphone bill. A loss was experienced by all, but the amount is so small, it does not make sense to hire a lawyer to go after the company to recover the loss. The people who are missing $100 join together and appoint one member as class representative. That class representative can make decisions that bind the entire group.

MDLs are established when a person or entity caused a similar harm that affected many people, but in different ways. The damages are unique enough that a class action lawsuit is not appropriate. Pursuing individual claims is not efficient either.

When there are medical bills, time from work lost, and a costly and painful revision surgery, it is unfair to bind everyone who has an ASR or a metal-on-metal hip replacement based on the decision of one member of the class or one other person who has a claim.

Value of Multidistrict Litigation

A huge benefit of MDLs is that they can conserve judicial resources. It is a good way to build up a general causation case. The case of a metal-on-metal hip implant failure and the harm it causes a patient is applicable to every single person who has a metal-on-metal hip implant claim.

Specific causation of how a client’s metal-on-metal hip caused his or her specific discomfort, pain, and injury must still be developed. Having the general causation argument and your experts in line goes a long way to helping everyone who has a metal-on-metal hip replacement complaint.

Benefits for the Plaintiffs

One of the benefits of an MDL case for the plaintiffs is that it saves cost. No single person bears the astronomical expenses of building a case with endless legal fees, against pharmaceutical giants who have billions of dollars. Instead of one person bearing that cost, responsibility, and work, you can aggregate resources and develop the case in a more efficient manner.

Another benefit is that the case moves a little more quickly. If there are 10,000 metal-on-metal hip implant cases filed throughout the country, there will be different or inconsistent rulings based on the venue, the judge, and on the arguments that are made. That can be difficult to reconcile.