Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) is a legal procedure created to “centralize” and speed the process of handling complex product liability or pharmaceutical cases. Frequently, there will be hundreds or even thousands of lawsuits filed relating to a certain product or pharmaceutical drug. As a result, an MDL is created to avoid duplicative discovery or inconsistent pretrial rulings in cases that can involve a large number of Plaintiffs. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, also known as the JPML makes decisions whether cases should be consolidated. The JPML consists of seven federal judges who are appointed to the panel by the Chief Justice of the United States. The JPML can make an independent decision to transfer a case into the MDL or a party can file a motion with the JPML to transfer the case into the MDL. The JPML was given this decision making power under 28 U.S.C. § 1407 which was passed by congress in 1968. Before making a decision regarding the transfer of a case, the panel will hold a hearing where both parties are able to present their arguments. Generally, the JPML will make the decision to consolidate cases pending in federal districts when the civil actions involve one or more common questions of fact, such as the negligence of a drug manufacturer.
The MDL Court speeds up the trial process by setting pretrial orders and deadlines for all the Plaintiffs and Defendants involved in the lawsuits. Additionally, the judge appoints highly skilled and experienced attorneys to steering committees to manage the discovery process for the lawsuits and manage the litigation for all the Plaintiffs involved.
MDL is often confused with class actions. Although class actions may be litigated within the MDL, single plaintiff cases are also litigated within the MDL. The mere fact that a lawsuit is pending in the MDL does not mean that it is a class action suit.