What is a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)?

Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) is a robust procedural tool developed in order to streamline the process of complex litigation involving several (to thousands) of alleged victims of a single or similar set of wrongs.  Over 90% of Multidistrict litigations (MDLs) are relatively small cases, often involving the coordination of only a few cases, but, over 90% of plaintiffs in MDLs are in a small number of massive, complex cases with hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs.  We refer to these MDLs as mass tort cases (although not all mass tort cases will be selected for an MDL).

Mass tort MDLs are often very complex and involve many plaintiffs. In many situations, the process of litigating each of these cases in different courtrooms would lead to the inefficient use of court time and duplicate work required by courts around the country.

The determination of whether Multidistrict litigation is appropriate for any given litigation is made by a United States Judicial Panel referred to as the MDL Panel. The MDL panel is governed by 28 U.S.C. Section 1407 (http://www.jpml.uscourts.gov/sites/jpml/files/28_usc_1407.pdf) and is comprised of seven sitting federal judges, who are appointed to serve on the Panel by the Chief Justice of the United States.

The MDL Panel has the job of determining whether civil actions pending in different federal districts involve one or more common question of fact such so that the transferring to a single federal district court would promote the just and efficient conduct of the actions.

The MDL panel selects a “transferee” district and judge to coordinate pretrial proceedings.  It is important to understand that your case may be transferred to a court that is far removed from you.  Unless you are selected as a bellwether trial (and this is generally a very small percentage of cases), the location of this courtroom should not impact you and should not be concerning.  Remember that product liability cases (drug, device and toxic torts) are complex and the defendants are generally the largest and most profitable of U.S. companies, tackling a lawsuit as a single plaintiff would be difficult if not impossible.  The goal of the MDL is to route cases to the best court to oversee all the early proceedings which should speed up your lawsuit and give us more data points to decide the best way to handle your lawsuit.

Cases that are not settled or dismissed during the MDL proceedings are remanded (transferred back) to the originating court for trial at the conclusion of the pretrial proceedings.  No two MDL proceedings are alike since the responsibility of leading the litigation is in the hands of the transferee judge who will set the goals/plans of the MDL proceeding.  The early goals/plans of the MDL will be to set the rules and time frame for discovery and pretrial activities as well as set up a bellwether trial plan in an effort towards moving all of the cases toward settlement or trial/remand.