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5/8/2024 By Diana Kantner

Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) has been on the rise. In 1991, MDLs made up approximately 1% of the pending federal civil cases. Now they account for more than half of the federal docket[1]. MDL provides a valuable mechanism to address widespread litigations, all arising from similar complaints. However, there are challenges in managing the complex data.

What is an MDL?

MDL is a special legal procedure designed to expedite the process of handling complex cases that involve numerous plaintiffs in different federal districts. These cases often share common factual issues, such as those related to defective products (including malfunctioning medical devices), pharmaceutical drugs, or large-scale corporate misconduct. The cases still remain separate lawsuits, but instead of having them proceed independently in various districts, an MDL consolidates them before one federal judge to streamline pretrial proceedings, such as discovery and motions, and to promote judicial efficiency. A list of pending MDLs may be found here:

How Does an MDL Work?

For drug and medical device cases, the FDA may issue a notice that an unexpected number of people have been reporting the same problems with a medical device (i.e., a knee implant), or an array of studies may uncover that a previously unknown risk of serious side effects with a particular drug may exist. The MDL process begins when multiple civil cases are filed across different federal courts. A party in one of the cases, usually the plaintiffs or defendants, can file a motion to transfer the cases to a single district for coordinated pretrial proceedings. The Judicial Panel on the Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), composed of seven federal judges, decides whether a consolidation is appropriate. The JPML considers (i) if the cases have one or more common facts, (ii) if transferring the cases to an MDL is convenient to all involved parties and (iii) if there will be efficiency, cost savings and fairness to all parties. If approved, the cases are transferred to the designated district court and assigned to a single judge, known as the MDL judge.

Benefits of an MDL

  1. Efficiency: By consolidating the cases, MDL reduces duplicative discovery, avoids conflicting rulings from different courts, and streamlines the litigation process.
  2. Consistency: A single judge handling pretrial matters ensures uniform decisions on common legal and factual issues.
  3. Cost-Effective: Consolidation may lower litigation costs for both plaintiffs and defendants by reducing duplicative and repetitive legal work and promoting quicker settlements.
  4. Expertise: The MDL judge becomes well-versed in the intricacies of the cases, leading to more informed rulings and management.

 Challenges of an MDL

  1. Volume and Complexity: MDL often involves massive amounts of data from numerous plaintiffs, defendants, and third parties, making data management a significant challenge.
  2. Data Standardization: Ensuring consistency and accuracy across different data sets is crucial, requiring robust systems for data integration and standardization. Often data is collected through Plaintiff Fact Sheets (PFS), which plaintiffs answer in their own way, or by answering open-ended questions that may need deciphering.
  3. Privacy and Security: Safeguarding sensitive information, including personal, proprietary, and medical data, is paramount, necessitating strict compliance with privacy laws and security protocols.
  4. Technology Integration: Effective data management in MDL requires advanced technology solutions, including document management systems, e-discovery tools, and a database system capable of handling large volumes of information.
  5. Coordination Among Parties: Managing data in MDL involves coordinating with multiple parties, including defendant and plaintiff law firms, experts, and courts to ensure data sharing and collaboration.

In summary, MDL offers a powerful mechanism for handling complex, large-scale legal disputes efficiently. While it offers many benefits, such as cost savings and consistency, it also presents challenges, particularly in managing vast amounts of complex data. Effective MDL management requires a combination of judicial expertise, advanced technology, and robust data handling practices to ensure a fair and efficient legal process for all parties involved.

[1] Nora Freeman Engstrom, Todd Venook, David Freeman Engstrom, and Silvie Saltzman, Plaintiffs and Attorneys in Multidistrict Litigation: Strengths, Deficits, and Paths Forward (May 2022)

Diana Kantner

About Diana Kantner

With more than 20 years of experience, Diana Kantner specializes in providing data analytics, damage calculations, future liability forecasting, predictive modeling, and claims management services to companies facing complex liability claims or litigation disputes. Her experience includes insurance claims analysis related to environmental, asbestos, PCBs, Agent Orange, and silicone breast implants — preparing and presenting to the London Market, Bermuda and U.S. carriers, totaling millions of dollars in recoveries.

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