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How Does Multi-District Litigation Work?

Multi-district litigation is a procedure that is used to transfer multiple cases of a similar type filed throughout the United States to one federal court to handle, explains a personal injury lawyer in California. The procedure is outlined in 28 USC § 1407:


"When civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact are pending in different districts, such actions may be transferred to any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. Such transfers shall be made by the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation."


A panel of seven federal judges makes the decision on what cases should be consolidated and transferred and the judge who has the case assigned to his or her court becomes known as the "transferee judge."


The purpose of multi-district litigation is to allow for speedy and efficient resolution of related cases in which the same defendant harmed multiple plaintiffs in a related way. Multi-district litigation is not the same thing as a class action. A class action is a case filed by a group of plaintiffs who have joined together because they have suffered a similar wrong. All of the plaintiffs in a class action have one combined trial and the outcome of that trial binds all of them.  


In a multi-district litigation, on the other hand, there are multiple different lawsuits brought by different plaintiffs against the same defendant and/or arising as a result of a similar wrong. While the defendant has wronged the plaintiffs in a similar way, they have not all joined together against the defendant and they are not all going to have to accept the same resolution. Instead, each plaintiff or group of plaintiffs will have the opportunity to have their case heard separately from the others in a separate trial. 


Although a class action and multi-district litigation are different, members of a class action, or of several class actions, are commonly part of multi-district litigation. For instance, a class action may have been filed in California and a separate class action may have been filed in Pennsylvania and another in New York. Each of those class actions—and others like them—could be consolidated and become part of a multi-district litigation. 


The reason that class actions commonly become part of multi-district litigations is because class actions require that a number of plaintiffs have suffered a similar wrong so they can join together as a class. Multi-district litigation also requires that a number of plaintiffs have suffered a similar wrong such that it makes sense to consolidate all of their cases into one court. 


While multi-district litigation, in theory, allows each different plaintiff or group of plaintiffs to have a separate trial, in practice it often doesn't end up that way. Instead, usually something called a bellwether trial occurs. The bellwether trial is the first case in the multi-district litigation that is heard. The results of the case can set the stage for future trials (although the results aren't usually binding from one case to the next). Commonly, however, the bellwether trial helps plaintiffs and defendants to see how much the case is worth so that a settlement can be reached without every single case actually having to go to trial. 


If a settlement for all the different lawsuits in a consolidated multi-district lawsuit is not reached, some or all of the separate lawsuits in the multi-district litigation will go to trial. There are still benefits to multi-district litigation even when this occurs, since the pre-trial discovery process is consolidated and much of the work leading up to each trial must be done only once. 


Additional information on this and other civil law subjects is available to the public free of charge through our office’s Preferred Friends and Clients Program.


If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to speak with a California personal injury lawyer, feel free to call 866-981-5596. 

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