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How Is Multidistrict Litigation Different from Class Action?

In some circumstances, many people who were injured in a similar way may wish to file lawsuits against a common defendant. If all of these cases were to proceed as separate lawsuits, the courts’ resources and time would be limited. Fortunately, the courts have two tools to help consolidate and manage these similar individual lawsuits: class actions and multidistrict litigation (MDL)

Multidistrict Litigation

MDL is a procedure the federal courts use to consolidate civil cases that involve common issues. It allows courts to transfer the suits to a single court for pre-trial proceedings such as discovery – the investigation phase before trial where both plaintiffs and defendants request documents from each other and question witnesses. MDL is done for efficiency, economy, and consistency. In an MDL, a single court is responsible for ruling on all pre-trial proceedings, thereby promoting consistency among the cases. Without MDL, on the other hand, there may be many inconsistent court rulings on the same issue.

For example, hundreds of plaintiffs may want to question the quality manager of a transvaginal mesh manufacturer that’s accused of selling defective mesh. Without MDL, the manager would likely be questioned hundreds of times in a number of different courts. MDL allows the cases to be combined and transferred to a single court, so the manager will be questioned only once and unnecessary work will be avoided.

Class Action Lawsuits

A class action is a lawsuit involving a group of individuals who join together to sue a common defendant after suffering the same or similar injuries. Before a class action can proceed, it needs to be certified. Federal courts require the following conditions to be satisfied for class certification:

  • There’s a large number of class members, making it impractical for the court to hear all the cases individually.
  • The class members share similar or the same injuries and legal claims.
  • A class representative exists who can adequately represent and protect the interests of the whole class.

For example, imagine hundreds of transvaginal mesh patients form a class, claiming they suffered serious infections after receiving a certain brand of mesh implants. The class members are seeking compensation under product liability law. A class would most likely be certified in this instance because there’s a large number of class members, the members suffered the same kind of injury, and the members share a similar cause of action.

MDL v. Class Action

There are some key distinctions between MDL and a class action. A class action is a single trial with a single resolution. MDL, on the other hand, only involves pre trial proceedings. Once these proceedings are over, ongoing cases are transferred back their respective courts for trial. Another difference is that MDL is a court-initiated action forcing an individual’s suit to be transferred, while a class action involves individuals voluntarily joining together.

The Advantages

Since both MDL and class action involve multiple plaintiffs combining their resources to some extent, both processes help reduce the high costs of litigation. In addition, massive class action suits often encourage settlement due to defendants’ desire to avoid huge losses. A class action also helps injured individuals who suffered only minimal damages have their day in court. For example, an injured plaintiff who suffered $100 in damages may not think it’s worth it to file a lawsuit. However, the plaintiff can join a class action to recover some compensation without much hassle.