How is Multidistrict Litigation Different from Class Action?

In order to file a lawsuit, a plaintiff must allege that he or she has some specific and unique injury. But what if there are many different persons who all have been injured in the same way by the same defendant? In those cases, the plaintiffs may have their lawsuits heard together, either for part of the court proceeding or for all of it. Two ways this can happen is through a class action or through Multidistrict Litigation.

Class Action Lawsuits

A class action is a lawsuit where multiple plaintiffs join together and sue a defendant – usually a large company. The requirements for a class action are that the plaintiffs all have the same kind of injury caused by the same defendant, and that one representative of the class (called the “lead plaintiff”) can demonstrate an injury that is typical of the class as a whole. In many class action suits, individuals are included as plaintiffs without their knowledge. One common example of this is cases in which consumers were overcharged for a certain product or service. If plaintiffs receive a settlement or an award of damages, generally all members of the class will receive the same amount regardless of their particular injury. However, in rare cases, the amount will be divided based on the value of each class member’s claim.

Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)

Another way that multiple plaintiffs can have their claims heard is through Multidistrict Litigation, or MDL. MDL differs from class actions in several ways. In MDL, several individual plaintiffs will file separate lawsuits in federal courts in different states, usually the states where plaintiffs live. If these cases have enough in common—for example, the plaintiffs all bought the same replacement hip and were injured by it in the same way—they can be consolidated and heard in one location by one judge. However, MDL covers only those parts of the case that lead up to trial. Whereas all class action claims are heard together through the conclusion of a trial or settlement, in MDL, once trial preparations are complete, the cases are sent back—or remanded—to the original court for trial.

The Advantages of MDL

Defendants often seek to have their cases heard through MDL so they won’t have to duplicate pre-trial proceedings. One such procedure is a deposition, where lawyers question at length a person who may have valuable knowledge about the facts of the case. MDL allows that person to be deposed only once instead of over and over for each case.

An advantage of MDL for plaintiffs is that it eliminates the possibility that different judges will rule inconsistently. As a result, plaintiffs with identical complaints will obtain the same rulings. But unlike class actions where plaintiffs generally share the settlement or award of damages equally, MDL allows those parties who may have been injured more seriously to have their unique claims heard in order to be compensated accordingly.