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Understanding Multidistrict Litigation

Understanding Multidistrict Litigation

What is an MDL? 

Legal proceedings related to consumer products often involve thousands of plaintiffs from all over the country. This can be overwhelming for the federal court system. To accommodate the number of lawsuits filed in this type of litigation, the legal system has developed a special procedure to simplify the litigation process and resolve common issues. This procedure is known as multidistrict litigation (“MDL”). MDLs involve cases in which a large number of plaintiffs file lawsuits against the same company over the same issue. One-third of all federal lawsuits are in an MDL. 

An MDL is different from a class action lawsuit. An MDL is not a single trial that resolves all of the cases in that litigation; instead, the litigation is consolidated under one federal judge who handles pretrial matters that are common to all of the defendants. The goal of an MDL is to conserve resources and promote consistent pretrial rulings across different lawsuits that involve similar legal issues. In doing so, MDLs may encourage settlement between the parties. 

What is a bellwether trial? 

A bellwether trial is an individual plaintiff’s trial within the first pool of cases tried in an MDL. These trials allow the parties to test their theories and arguments before a jury. The court chooses which cases will be included as part of this pool. These cases proceed to court in the same jurisdiction as the MDL. Bellwether trials are used as an example of possible outcomes in future, similarly situated cases. The results of which may also influence settlement discussions. Most cases in an MDL are not tried. Rather, plaintiffs are often presented with the opportunity to settle before their case is litigated in front of a jury.  The Smith Law Firm works with its clients to ensure its clients’ cases are best situated for success in an MDL.