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“What is an MDL or Multi-District Litigation?”

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question is one that we received not too long ago from a caller who asked: what is multi-district litigation?

This is an interesting question. There is an area of the law referred to as complex litigation. It is a catch-all umbrella term that encompasses class actions, and includes multi-district litigation.

Multi-district litigation, sometimes referred to by the abbreviation MDL, is a litigation management tool used by the federal courts to streamline the management of complex litigation.

When courts found that they were confronted with class actions popping up in different areas of the country, where large groups of people scattered across a large geographic area have similar claims, the courts had to come up with a way to manage all of those cases.

For example, in an earlier podcast we mentioned talcum powder related litigation which focuses on talcum powder and its link to ovarian cancer. Just imagine the confusion that would ensue if all 4500 claims of the same type could go on simultaneously in courts all across the country.

Maybe this example is a bit easier to picture: Let’s say a company sells a cleaning chemical call Spiffy-Clean. Let’s also say workers who used Spiffy-Clean start showing up to their doctors with cancer. They then get attorneys, and all of the workers who used Spiffy-Clean sue the maker of Spiffy-Clean for product liability claiming a lack of warning.

A key issue of fact in a product liability cleaning chemical case, such as the one involving the make-believe product Spiffy-Clean, will be whether the chemical manufacturer knew that the cleaning chemical product was carcinogenic.

Let’s say Plaintiffs in 150 individual lawsuits across the country wish to question under other the company’s director of research. Without an MDL court to manage everything, the director of research for the maker of Spiffy-Clean will have to be questioned under oath 150 times. Under the management of the MDL court, the director of research will be deposed once.

So how exactly does multi-district litigation work?

Typically, in an MDL the court recognizes committees of attorneys. For example, there will be a plaintiff’s attorney committee dedicated to a particular issue in the case, for example taking the deposition of the head of the Spiffy-Clean manufacturer.

In such a case, a group of plaintiff’s attorneys working together organize the work load and decide what questions to ask, and who is going to ask the questions.

A similar committee might be formed about experts on the health impact of Spiffy-Clean.

So instead of 150 battles about the same issue going on all over the country there’s only one battle, and the MDL court decides how that issue will proceed and whether the experts can testify and what they can say before a jury.

Thus, in multidistrict litigation, the multiple civil cases that share a common issue are transferred to a single district court. That court handles all discovery and pretrial proceedings. If a case does not settle during MDL, it is typically sent back to the original court for trial.

Having one court manage what goes on in multiple similar cases has worked very well in the cases in which our office has been involved.

One such case involved contaminated injections that were provided to multiple patients. The injections were contaminated with a fungus. The injections killed several people and injured many others in multiple states.

Though that particular case functioned like an MDL, it was managed by a bankruptcy judge because the manufacturer of the product filed for bankruptcy court protection as there were far more claims than available assets to pay all claims.

In short, an MDL is a way to manage multiple class actions and simplify the legal process in such cases.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.