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Which Court Will Handle My Case?

An important concern when filing a lawsuit is determining the proper court. The answer is not always easy. Sometimes there are multiple “right” answers, in which case a plaintiff must determine the “best” answer. This is often true in product liability cases. Whether to file in state or federal court is one important consideration, as Sara’s case illustrates.

Sara’s Transvaginal Mesh Case

Sara is a vibrantly healthy 43-year-old woman, but she has been experiencing periodic moderate-to-severe pelvic for several weeks. She had problems with stress urinary incontinence several years ago, but she underwent surgery and had a transvaginal mesh (“TV mesh”) device implanted which solved the problem. When Sara sees her urologist, she is devastated to learn that the synthetic mesh from the device has eroded into surrounding tissues and must be removed immediately. Sara is further shocked to learn her experience is not uncommon, and thousands of women have sued TV mesh manufacturers.

Sara wants to sue the manufacturer of her TV mesh device, but she has many questions. One question is which court will handle her case. She needs to consult with a knowledgeable attorney to explore her options. Still, there are some general facts about product liability jurisdiction Sara should know.

Jurisdiction in Product Liability Cases

Generally, a product liability case may be filed in a state court in the particular county where the injury occurred. A product liability case may also be filed in a federal district court in the district where the injury occurred if something called diversity jurisdiction exists between the manufacturer and the injured person.

Although product liability laws are similar across states, each state has its own unique set of laws. With very limited federal preemption exceptions, the state law in which the case is filed will control the case, regardless of whether the matter is filed in a state court or a federal court within that state.

Multidistrict Litigation in Mass Product Liability Cases

In some products cases, like Sara’s TV mesh case, thousands of lawsuits are filed against a manufacturer in federal courts all across the country for injuries caused by the same product. In such instances, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has the authority to consolidate the cases into a single court for all pre-trial proceedings. This is called “multidistrict litigation” (“MDL”) and is designed to promote efficiency and economy in litigated matters. Once a case that has been moved into a MDL forum for pre-trial proceedings is ready to go to trial, it must be returned to the district court in which it was filed for the trial.

Determining the Appropriate Forum

Sara’s attorney will ultimately perform an analysis and decide where her case should be filed. In some instances, a case may be filed in either state or federal court. If so, an attorney must assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case and determine which court will best serve the client’s best interests.