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Class Action Lawsuit Vs. Multidistrict Litigation

When a large group of people suffer injuries from the same defendant(s) due to their negligence or a defective product they produced, they are entitled to file lawsuits to recover damages from the injuries they suffered. However, courts often become overwhelmed because they lack the resources to handle the quantity of cases that are filed at once. Instead, these types of cases are pursued by filing a class action lawsuit or multidistrict litigation.

Class Action Lawsuit

In a class action lawsuit, a group of individuals, called the “class,” will file a claim against the same defendant for the same injuries. The class is represented by a “class representative,” who typically has suffered the worst injuries. The class representative acts for the interests of the entire group throughout the lawsuit. When an attorney files a class action complaint, they must describe the facts of the case, explain who the proposed class is and what similar injuries they have suffered, lay out the damages sought, list the names of the class representatives, and list the names of the lead legal counsel. After the complaint is filed, the presiding judge will determine whether they will “certify” the class. Certification turns on several elements, including commonality in injury and numerosity. While there is no exact number needed to file a class action lawsuit, judges typically only certify classes if there are at least forty plaintiffs. However, class sizes often reach thousands to millions of plaintiffs. 

Plaintiffs who are not class representatives do not need to hire an attorney or appear in court. They generally receive a notification telling them they may be eligible to take part in the class action. From there, lead counsel will screen their injuries to ensure they meet the requirements and classify. Often, class actions are negotiated and settled before the trial stage. If the class action does proceed to trial, lead counsel will present the case to the court. If lead counsel is successful at recovering a settlement, the court will distribute the recovery evenly between all plaintiffs. Although the settlement is typically split evenly, class representatives sometimes receive more money due to the severity of their damages. 

Multidistrict Litigation   

Multidistrict Litigations, or MDL’s, resemble class action lawsuits in the sense that a large group of people are suing the same defendant for negligence or product liability. However, MDL’s differ from class actions because the injuries suffered by the group of people do not need to be the same. To initiate an MDL, individual plaintiffs file their lawsuits in their respective jurisdictions. Their lawyers will then petition the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to centralize these cases into a federal MDL. The JPML may also consolidate the claims into an MDL without an attorney’s motion. Every plaintiff retains their own counsel throughout litigation. 

After the cases are consolidated into an MDL, each individual case is removed from their respective jurisdictions into a single federal district court under one presiding judge. The court will then appoint “steering committees” to oversee pretrial investigations and discovery. From there, plaintiffs’ attorneys will choose a few individual cases to act as “bellwether trials.” These bellwether trials serve as test trials to help determine the future results of the remaining cases. After the bellwether trials settle, the product liability lawyer will either continue to take cases to trial, or they will negotiate the other cases using the results of the bellwether trials as a foundation.  

Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight on class actions lawsuits and multidistrict litigations.

If you would like to join an ongoing lawsuit, contact an attorney near you for help.