What is Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)? When is it Employed?

Multidistrict litigation is related legal claims pending in multiple jurisdictions. MDL is a legal tool designed to consolidate multiple claims arising from the same event or cause of action. The typical example is an airliner crash. The families for each of the passengers could file suit in hundreds of different jurisdictions, resulting in a staggering waste of court resources and holdings that potentially conflict with one another. MDL was devised as a solution to level the playing field for plaintiffs and defendants during the discovery and litigation phases of a case and to conserve judicial resources. MDLs are separate and distinct from mass tort class actions.

Traditionally, MDL claims fall into these categories:

  • Product liability
  • Securities
  • Employment law
  • Antitrust
  • Contractual law
  • Disasters (e.g., terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill)
  • Airplane accidents and disasters
  • Intellectual property
  • Sales and advertising issues

Many MDLs fall under the “miscellaneous” category. Recent miscellaneous claims include litigation over ATM fees, mortgage lending practices, Internet consumer privacy, sports concussion brain injuries, and water contamination litigation.
The MDL process allows injured individuals and their families to pursue justice where they may have been unable to or unwilling to pursue litigation on their own.

What are the Benefits of Multidistrict Litigation and Mass Torts for Injured Plaintiffs?

Say a Baltimore consumer injured by a defective product sues the manufacturer. Another consumer in Richmond, Virginia, is injured by the same defective product and sues the same manufacturer. Still another injured consumer files a lawsuit over the same product in Washington, D.C.
Each of these injured consumers hires separate attorneys and file claims in separate jurisdictions. The defendant manufacturer who negligently made, supplied, and marketed the dangerous product has the advantage of being able to coordinate through one team of in-house lawyers to create a common litigation strategy to attack each of these lawsuits.

The lawyers representing the injured consumers may not be aware or communicate with one another and may be unable to collaborate on strategy and costs. The defendant manufacturer may enter into confidentiality agreements with one plaintiff to further obstruct the ability of the plaintiffs to coordinate. A plaintiff may incorrectly think a case is weak when she is unaware of other claims pending against a defendant. Each plaintiff must also devise a litigation strategy, perform its own legal research, and develop its own claim, while the defendant has the advantage of centralizing its strategy, resources, and legal team.

The costs a plaintiff must incur to bring a product liability case are very high. The defendant, on the other hand, could use the same legal research, expert opinions, and attorney work product for multiple claims. Under this scenario, each plaintiff who is suing the defendant over the same faulty product would need to duplicate its litigation strategy and process, which not only wastes resources but also disadvantages the plaintiffs.

Why Should I Hire an Experienced MDL Lawyer?

Multidistrict litigation is an extraordinarily complex practice area fraught with pitfalls and challenges that can easily snare the inexperienced. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has its own unique procedural rules, which are stringent and must be precisely followed. MDL practice has its own vocabulary and terms of art. The vast majority of lawyers was not taught MDL practice during law school, but has to learn this practice area on the job. Hiring an experienced MDL attorney means you have an attorney fighting for you who understands the process, the legal strategy, and is not learning on the job.

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