What is Multidistrict Litigation?

Multidistrict litigation (MDL) is useful in large-scale civil lawsuits, like those involving dangerous prescription drugs, airplane crashes, and defective medical devices. These types of cases often involve hundreds of plaintiffs who are presenting the same factual issues in court. MDL consolidates all of the lawsuits, so that a single federal court can manage all the pretrial procedures, including discovery and settlement conferences. Consolidating the pretrial procedures for a group of lawsuits helps speed up the judicial process and brings down litigation costs.

How Multidistrict Litigation Works

Multidistrict litigation occurs when a group of federal civil cases from around the country are transferred to one court for the pretrial phase. The multidistrict court is a special federal court that hears complex civil cases, like those involving dangerous prescription drugs. All of these cases must have one or more questions of fact in common. Questions of fact are answered by the evidence presented in the case. If the case doesn’t settle or is dismissed by the court at the MDL stage, it is transferred back to the original court for a new trial.

To decide whether multiple lawsuits should be transferred to an MDL court, a panel of seven federal judges is appointed. Once the panel makes the MDL determination, the cases go to a single federal district court where one judge will preside over the pretrial proceedings, including discovery and settlement conferences. During the discovery stage, all relevant facts of the case will be disclosed. In addition, a settlement agreement may be reached during the pretrial proceedings. However, if a trial is necessary after these proceedings, the cases are sent back to the court where they were originally filed and a new trial will begin.

Multidistrict litigation has been used in lawsuits against the manufacturer of Yasmin. Yasmin is a widely used birth control pill that has been linked to blood clots, heart attack, deep vein thrombosis, and even death. Thousands of users across the country who suffered these side effects have filed lawsuits against Bayer, the manufacturer of Yasmin. These lawsuits argue that the manufacturer falsely advertised the pill’s uses and provided insufficient warnings about the health risks. Since there’s a high volume of cases with the same factual issues, they were consolidated as an MDL matter.

Advantages and Disadvantages for Plaintiffs

An advantage of multidistrict litigation for plaintiffs is that lawyers from all over the country can work together. As a result, there will be a large network of attorneys pooling their resources and sharing evidence for the benefit of the plaintiffs. Another advantage is that MDL is less time consuming because one judge makes the pretrial decisions for all of the cases. This allows for consistency and can help speed things up if the case goes to trial. On the other hand, it can be a disadvantage having only one judge rule on the pretrial proceedings, because this ruling is final for all of the MDL lawsuits.