What Is the Difference Between a Class Action Lawsuit and Multidistrict Litigation?

What Is the Difference Between a Class Action Lawsuit and Multidistrict Litigation?

Many believe that Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) and class action lawsuits are ultimately the same: an injured group of people who collectively sue a defendant who caused them harm. While there is some truth to this general statement, there are numerous differences between the two.

Below, we clarify the distinctions between the two and explain what a class action and an MDL can mean for your claim. Learn how a personal injury lawyer can benefit you in seeking your claims.

Multidistrict Litigation

Multidistrict litigation or MDL is a procedure used by federal courts in which civil cases involving similar issues from around the country are consolidated and moved to one court. Once there, one judge will manage the litigation during pretrial and discovery. If the case is not dismissed during this process or settled, it will transfer back to the original court for trial.

The purpose of consolidating these cases is to consolidate the evidence gathered for one suit for the remaining lawsuits, which can significantly streamline the process, ultimately reducing the total costs and time for lawsuits. As a result, MDLs typically promote consistency between similar lawsuits since a single court rules on all pretrial proceedings, saving time and money.

How Do MDLs Start?

The attorneys representing clients in lawsuits that have suffered similar harm caused by the same defective product or act of corporate negligence can ask the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to create an MDL to consolidate the cases. However, even though these lawsuits consolidate into an MDL, each plaintiff retains their own attorney.

In a class action lawsuit, you do not need to hire an attorney to be part of the lawsuit; once consolidated, the court will appoint a group of lawyers from across the nation to coordinate pretrial proceedings and try to resolve the litigation.

This panel usually considers three things in determining whether to create a new MDL:

  • Do the involved cases have one or more facts in common?
  • Will transferring these cases to an MDL help with cost savings and efficiency?
  • Will transferring the cases to an MDL be appropriate for all parties involved?

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Types of Cases Usually Subject to MDL

In general, MDL applies to large and complex cases that involve one or more common issues of fact, which are issues that need to be determined by looking at the evidence.

While this can mean that various causes can be subject to MDL, in general, the cases most frequently suited for this litigation include:

  • Securities fraud
  • Employment practices
  • Dangerous drugs (such as Xarelto, Vioxx, and Seroquel)
  • Dangerous medical devices (such as hip replacements, breast implants, and vaginal mesh)
  • Plane crashes
  • Intellectual property infringement

In addition, numerous prominent injury-related claims, such as mesothelioma/asbestos lawsuits or Roundup cancer lawsuits, use MDLs.

Bellwether Trials

Bellwether trials are test cases in extensive mass tort litigation that involve thousands of plaintiffs. These cases most accurately represent the majority of the cases involved, and when they go to trial, it allows both sides to figure out how strong their legal case is. As a result, if a company loses a number of these bellwether trials, they may decide to offer a settlement to all the plaintiffs who are a part of an MDL rather than litigate them individually.

Yet, if the bellwether trials do not result in an agreement, the MDL judge will send the cases back to their local federal jurisdiction to be tried as individual cases.

How Will an MDL Affect Your Case?

One complaint individuals have about MDL is a feeling of isolation. Many times courts in different states will hear these cases, leaving plaintiffs feeling detached from the legal ordeal. On the other hand, they allow individuals to avoid spending all of their time dealing with depositions and other time-consuming details.

Other issues that can arise from MDLs include:

  • MDL reduces legal costs, meaning the defense has a better opportunity to prolong a case.
  • By working as a team, the plaintiff’s lawyers can reduce their aggregate legal costs, meaning the plaintiff’s compensation award will be higher.
  • Complicated questions may arise regarding which state’s laws apply to a claim, which can help or hurt a case.
  • Consolidating claims into an MDL creates more publicity, leading to significantly more plaintiffs filing a claim. As a result, this can raise the stakes for the defendants.
  • MDLs are more likely to settle than other personal injury claims.

Class Action Lawsuits

A class action lawsuit is a civil lawsuit brought on behalf of business entities or a group of people who suffered common injuries because of a wrongful party’s conduct. In these lawsuits, one entity or individual will act as a representative of the group. While the issues of the class action can differ, the issues in the dispute are common to all the class action members.

After filing a class action lawsuit, all the potential class-action members can join. Once the case settles, those who were part of the class action cannot file an individual lawsuit for the same issues.

How Do Class Actions Get Started?

A class action lawsuit can start with one person if an attorney believes that the individual's claim is fit for a class action. If they do, the attorney can find others eligible to join the class action lawsuit.

Types of Cases That Make Up a Class Action

Class actions usually arise from:

  • Defective products, such as prescription drugs or faulty motor vehicle parts such defective car seats or components
  • Securities fraud
  • Employment-related issues, such as discrimination and pay disputes
  • Unfair business practices
  • Insurance claims
  • Toxic exposure

Class Action Certification

To proceed with a class action, a court must certify the class.

While this certification procedure will differ based on the state’s rules and the federal system, most states follow the below class action guidelines, as set out in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP):

  • The class is so numerous that it would be impracticable to have them join in one lawsuit.
  • There are common questions of law or fact across all cases, meaning they derive from the same wrongdoings.
  • The class representative or the named plaintiffs have the same claims and defenses as others in the class.
  • The class representatives will fairly and adequately protect the class.

Additionally, because individuals qualified for class actions usually suffer minor financial damages, they may not be aware of any legal proceedings against the defendant or what happened to them. For these reasons, a Notice of Class Action goes to those whose legal rights may be affected by a recently settled or filed lawsuit.

Costs of Joining a Class Action Lawsuit

Regarding a class-action lawsuit, it costs nothing for plaintiffs to join. However, if a plaintiff's damages exceed the losses of others in the class-action lawsuit, they may consider pursuing their own legal case by opting out of the class action. If they do not opt out and are part of the class action lawsuit, they will be unable to pursue further legal action for the same issue after the case is complete.

This rule is important since those who join a class-action lawsuit are less likely to obtain a large settlement because the total payout distributes equally between all plaintiffs.

How Will a Class Action Lawsuit Affect Your Claim?

Class actions typically help individuals with minor claims join together to hold the wrongful party accountable for their harm and losses.

These lawsuits can also:

  • Eliminate worry about attorney’s fees or participating in court proceedings
  • Reduce the stress of those involved
  • Increase the efficiency of the court system
  • Provide fair compensation for all the members
  • Hold companies liable for wrongdoings, even when the wrongdoings are relatively minor but still affect many people

Differences Between a Class Action Lawsuit and an MDL

One of the main differences between a class action lawsuit and an MDL is that a class action lawsuit involves a group of people who have voluntarily joined together, whereas an MDL is a court-initiated action that forces many individual lawsuits to relocate. The Round-Up MDL lawsuit is a perfect example of this.

Generally, victims of a faulty product or a harmful drug will join a class action lawsuit to evade tackling these legal issues by themselves, understanding that if the class action is prosperous, they must share the settlement and forgo pursuing further legal action. However, those who opt out of the class action lawsuit can seek legal action alone or join an MDL.

Consequently, compared to class action lawsuits, MDL addresses each client’s needs while still enjoying many of the benefits of class action lawsuits, such as the ability to pool information and resources required to take on powerful corporations.

Yet, these differences do not end there. In addition:

  • Class actions require plaintiffs to certify their class, while MDLs do not.
  • Class actions try to combine all the cases for the entire court process, while MDLs only combine these cases for the pre-trial portion before transferring the case back to the individual court.
  • MDLs occur when peoples’ circumstances are too different from one another for a case to proceed as a class action. This circumstance usually arises in the context of physical trauma. At the same time, class actions have parties filing a suit with an identical injury due to the same cause.
  • All parties are part of the same class-action lawsuit, while under an MDL, each individual lawsuit remains separate even though it is part of the MDL.
  • Class actions are usually represented by a single law firm, while lawyers from multiple law firms represent MDLs.

Furthermore, under a class action lawsuit, if someone suing wins, all parties will usually receive an identical share of the settlement or verdict. In an MDL, each party may receive a portion of an award or settlement based on the individual’s injuries.

If people sue and lose under a class action, they are bound by the court’s decision unless they opted- out of the settlement. However, under an MDL, individuals are free to pursue their own lawsuit in the original court if they disagree with the settlement terms.

Work With an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Who Can Walk You Through These Differences

Contact a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney if you or a loved one sustained harm from a failed medical device or dangerous prescription drugs. These lawyers understand the nature of MDLs and class action lawsuits and can help determine if your case qualifies for one of these legal options.

Your attorney can also:

  • Review the facts of your case and figure out your legal options.
  • Answer all your questions and concerns regarding the legal proceedings involved in your case.
  • Help you take on large companies, employers, and even local governments and go after the financial damages you deserve.

If you have questions regarding your case or want to know more about class action lawsuits or MDLs, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today for a free case consultation. Let these lawyers get you the answers you need.

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Gabriel Levin - Attorney

Gabriel Levin is a highly experienced and credible attorney with over 10 years of practice in Pennsylvania. Known for his tenacity, he has represented clients in a wide range of civil matters, trying hundreds of cases. He prepares each case as if it will go to trial, ensuring meticulous attention to detail.

Unlike many firms that delegate tasks, Levin personally handles every aspect of a case and maintains open communication with clients throughout. He has secured millions in compensation, making him a reliable choice for those seeking legal representation.

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