Mass Tort Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)

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Congress created Multidistrict Litigation proceedings (MDLs) in 1968 so that overlapping cases are centralized before a single judge for coordinated pre-trial proceedings, resulting in much more efficiency. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are also now using MDLs to bring meritless claims in the hopes that the sheer number of cases will pressure defendants into settlements. In 2018, 52 percent of all federal civil cases wound up in MDLs, of which about 90 percent were mass tort cases. Furthermore, the plaintiffs’ bar also groups together unrelated personal injury claims in multiple-plaintiff lawsuits as a trick to avoid federal jurisdiction, so the cases can be handled by a few “magnet” state courts. Read More...

A single judge can oversee tens of thousands of consolidated cases in a single MDL. This results in a very small amount of judges wielding an enormous amount of power over a majority of civil cases in federal courts. This creates a problem as MDL’s have different appeal rights for plaintiffs and defendants, where a plaintiff can immediately appeal a judge’s decision, and the defendant alternately has no timely or effective way to appeal. This ultimately leads to defendants being forced to settle. The current unequal treatment of defendants and plaintiffs is a clear imbalance that needs correction. In addition, the federal judiciary is looking at potentially changing the rules regarding MDL proceedings to help address this situation.

The Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) believes there should be federal court jurisdiction to limit state court magnet MDL proceedings, and that evidentiary support for plaintiffs’ claims should be mandated in order to avoid baseless proceedings.


Suggested Resources

  • Trials and Tribulations: Contending with Bellwether and Multi-Plaintiff Trials in MDL Proceedings

    Trials and Tribulations: Contending with Bellwether and Multi-Plaintiff Trials in MDL Proceedings

    October 21, 2019

    Multidistrict litigation (MDL) proceedings are a key feature of our civil justice system, designed to offer an efficient path through pretrial proceedings in large groups of cases against the same defendant(s). Unfortunately, some judges are undermining the integrity of this mechanism by conducting MDL "bellwether trials" with the express intent of incentivizing parties to settle. Some MDL judges even force defendants to accept multi-plaintiff bellwether trials, which effectively stack the deck against them. ILR's research examines the impact of this problem, and proposes straightforward legislative fixes to address it. Read More

  • MDL Imbalance: Why Defendants Need Timely Access To Interlocutory Review

    MDL Imbalance: Why Defendants Need Timely Access To Interlocutory Review

    April 24, 2019

    Multidistrict litigation proceedings (MDLs) were created as an efficient way to handle pretrial proceedings in hundreds or thousands of similar cases against the same defendant. Unfortunately, MDLs also give plaintiffs an unfair advantage when it comes to appeals. If a defendant makes a dispositive motion-on preemption or expert evidence, for example-and is denied, it won't normally have access to immediate appeal. But if the defendant wins the motion, plaintiffs can appeal right away. This paper argues for courts to give MDL plaintiffs and defendants equal access to appellate review. Read More

All Results for Mass Tort Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)

  1. A Handful of Plaintiffs' Lawyers Dominate MDL Litigation

    April 28, 2017 | News and Blog

    A recent story from Reuters writes that consolidated multidistrict litigation (MDL) "comprised 36 percent of the entire civil caseload of the federal court system in 2014, up from 16 percent in 2002."... Read More

  2. The Food Court: Trends in Food and Beverage Class Action Litigation

    February 24, 2017 | Research

    This paper examines the emerging litigation trends in the food and beverage industry and makes concrete recommendations for reforms, outlining the role that the courts, legislatures, and regulatory agencies all have in restoring common sense to food class action litigation.... Read More

  3. MDL Proceedings: Eliminating the Chaff

    October 27, 2015 | Research

    This paper suggests procedural improvements to weed out dubious and fraudulent claims in the early stages of multidistrict litigation (MDL) proceedings to prevent them from becoming "lawsuit magnets."... Read More

  4. Lawsuit Ecosystem II: New Trends, Targets and Players

    December 04, 2014 | Research

    This report, authored by a distinguished group of practitioners, explores the evolving lawsuit "ecosystem." It considers how plaintiffs' lawyers generate litigation and significant developments that will spur more lawsuits or rein in excessive liability.... Read More